Here’s a question: Is the ‘Islamophobia’ of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab the same as the ‘Islamophobia’ of Trump, Gove, Blair, Douglas Murray and Sam Harris? Is it the same as the ‘Islamophobia’ of Pope Urban II, Ferdinand and Isabella, Churchill and Lloyd George, the same as that of Modi, Netanyahu, and the governments of China and Myanmar.
If the views and actions of all these people towards Islam and Muslims has some connection or common link, then to define ‘Islamophobia’ predominantly in terms of a form of ‘racism’ doesn’t make sense. Abu Lahab was not just the same ‘race’ as the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, he was his uncle!
To be sure, there is racism towards Muslims living in Britain, Europe, the USA and Australia. And there are racist attitudes towards Muslims in the Muslim world from some living in those western countries. Racism may not be the DNA of people, but the nature of a secular nation state is such that people start to become cultured and indoctrinated into racist attitudes in the subtlest of ways from primary school age.
But to think that a definition rooted in racism is the dominant way to define ‘Islamophobia’, would be to misunderstand the issues that exist today – and to misinform those who eagerly waited to hear opinions from academics and activists. Racist attitudes were present during the colonial period. It wasn’t what drove the colonialists to invade and subjugate others, but it meant they had fewer inhibitions. So it is with ‘Islamophobia’ – it isn’t driven by racism, but the fact that many ‘Islamophobes’ have racist attitudes means they have fewer inhibitions about doing what they do.
Many of those who have welcomed the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia are respected voices, who are sincerely trying to find a way to help the Muslim community tackle abuse and discrimination because of their Islam. I am sure their view will be that this definition is not ‘the’ definition of ‘Islamophobia’. They will probably agree there is a connection between Abu Lahab to Douglas Murray. However, I suspect they endorse this definition because – if it were adopted into law – they probably feel it may offer some practical protection to Muslims facing discrimination and abuse.
Conversely, there are others who have welcomed this definition, who really don’t care very much for Islam – but who care for a secular framework of rights and so feel that, according to this framework, Muslims deserve some protection whilst Islam deserves to be critiqued, criticised, slandered and vilified with impunity – and that such a definition will not prevent that which they welcome from happening.
I dislike the term ‘Islamophobia’ for many reasons but not to use it in the context of this week’s discussions makes no sense.
People relate to the term because it highlights real feelings of injustice. People look to counter it because they want to see it tackled and curtailed.
But it is built upon analogies with countering anti-Semitism i.e. hoping that legal measures will bring protection for its victims. But as such, it can create a victim mentality in the minds of the subjects of the attack.
It tries to secure ‘rights’ under a secular framework of rights – which will sometimes mean that Muslims concede their Islamic principles in order to apply this same secular framework consistently.
It seeks short-term partial gains within this secular framework – which can be argued that it is better than nothing. However, a partial and limited protection from the harms of ‘Islamophobes’ doesn’t change attitudes. Britain has laws against racism, yet racist attitudes persist. Indeed, we saw similar campaigns in the past for laws to prohibit the incitement to religious hatred – but that has not done a thing to prevent a rise in religious hatred towards Muslims, and indeed others.
Some say that labels of ‘Islamophobia’ close down debate about Islam.
But others will say that ‘Islamophobia’ should only be applied to those attacks on Islam that don’t aid any reasoned debate – that use emotional manipulation to demonise Islam and silence debate.
Such crude, populist and emotive attacks on Islam demonise the advocates for Islam as an alternative way of life – and close down debate so as to prevent questions being asked by about the failings of today’s secular world. When you spend time demonising Islam based on skewed caricatures of violence or attitudes to women, people don’t spend so much time thinking about the levels of violence in this secular world and its attitudes to women.
So how does one deal with the seemingly never-ending attacks and campaigns against Islam and Muslims, if not by seeking rights and protections?
The answer lies in another question: how did the Messenger of Allah ﷺ deal with the seemingly never-ending attacks and campaigns against him ﷺ and his Companions?
He ﷺ and his Companions did three things:
They trusted in Allah alone. They remained steadfast on their faith. And they continued to invite people to an alternative to the ignorant way of life that dominated their society.
Regarding trusting in Allah, so many verses from Qu’ran – in both Makkan and Madinan Surahs – remind the believer that it is Allah who is the One who protects or allows us to be harmed.
وَإِن يَمْسَسْكَ اللَّهُ بِضُرٍّ فَلَا كَاشِفَ لَهُ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ وَإِن يَمْسَسْكَ بِخَيْرٍ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Him. And if He touches you with good – then He is over all things competent. [Al-An’am: 17]
وَإِن يَمْسَسْكَ اللَّهُ بِضُرٍّ فَلَا كَاشِفَ لَهُ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ وَإِن يُرِدْكَ بِخَيْرٍ فَلَا رَادَّ لِفَضْلِهِ ۚ يُصِيبُ بِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ ۚ وَهُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Him; and if He intends for you good, then there is no repeller of His bounty. He causes it to reach whom He wills of His servants. And He is the Forgiving, the Merciful [Yunus: 107]
One who understands this will never feel a victim. Rather one would feel tested but secure if one placed one’s trust in the One who has power over all things.
Regarding remaining steadfast, the stories of the Prophets in the Quran were a motivation for the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and an education for his Companions. So they remained steadfast in their belief in Allah, following His Messenger ﷺ and adherent to their commands and prohibitions without compromise, knowing Allah is their Protector.
One who learned these lessons, knows that if one aim of ‘Islamophobia’ is to suppress expression of Islam, then doesn’t compromise their Islamic principles for the sake of one’s ‘rights’.
Regarding inviting people to an alternative way of life – if the aim of this ‘Islamophobia’ is to close down debate on the dominant secular system, then surely our role is to continue to speak out and offer an alternative, with sincere concern for the millions of people who are oppressed by this system the world over.
If the price of ‘preventing Islamophobia’ is to close down debate then that is an obstacle to the robust sincere and honest debate that we should be seeking, about what kind of system is worthy of organising society, such that race, religion or class are not scapegoated in order to hide the failures of today’s false gods.
The purpose of this article is not to rubbish the efforts of those sincere people who are trying to help deal with a complex problem. Rather, it is to make a different point regardless of whether protections are secured or not. Protections in law don’t deal with fear and abuse that will sadly continue to exist in spite of legislation. Laws aren’t a cure for attitudes that have been nurtured at a systemic level. – they restrict behaviours of hostile people.
Even if protections are won – which I would welcome – it can come at the cost of encouraging the sense that we are a people in need of protection, which can heighten fearfulness – which I would not. For fearfulness can create a self-censorship amongst Muslim such that they depart from Islamic values due to social pressures even though they have won a ‘right’ in law to express their faith.
By contrast Tawakkul in Allah isn’t actively seeking rights – but it is the remedy for fear. Steadfastness in deen isn’t a lobbying campaign – but it subverts the aim of ‘Islamophobia’ that seeks to bully Muslims into abandoning their Islam. Inviting people to Islam is not a PR exercise – it is an Islamic good deed that can earn Allah’s pleasure which can raise one’s vision higher than mere self-defence to seeking good for the whole of humanity, if you are offering an alternative to the dominant system that has institutionalised negative behaviour towards others based on their race, religion, sex or social status at a societal level.
It remains to be seen whether defining ‘Islamophobia’ will help to deal with it. But without the three aforementioned ingredients, we will be no better off than we were before.
01 Rabi’ al-thani 1440
08 December 2018