Monday 24 July 2017

Where does Chinese Islamophobia come from?

I am sitting with a small group of Chinese and Westerners on the dried-out grass in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, in a prosperous part of eastern Beijing. Suddenly the conversation turns to China’s Hui Muslims, a minority of some 10 million people who live throughout the country. “Stupid cunts!” (傻屄 shǎbī) shouts Wang Zhen, a Chinese IT graduate and avid Trump supporter.
“What about the Uyghur?” somebody asks, referring to the predominantly Muslim group in Xinjiang, the far western province where the Communist Party stands accused of imposing draconian restrictions on religious freedom. “They are the biggest shabi,” says Wang, launching into a Jack Daniel’s-fueled tirade against both the Hui and the Uyghur, while his French fiancé tries to change the subject.
Wang is from Lanzhou, the capital of the north-central province of Gansu, which is home to a large Hui population. Historically, Lanzhou was an important stop on the northern Silk Road, where for centuries goods and ideas passed through Central Asia, linking East and West.
Wang is an extreme example, comparable with many individuals in America’s “alt-right.” But throughout my time in China, I have noticed an alarming prevalence of Islamophobic views at every level of society. And I was curious as to why these views, often directly imported from the West, seem to have found traction among so many Chinese people. After all, these same people were often quick to criticize Western intervention in the Middle East; they also surely had good reasons of their own to support attempts to counter Western political and cultural dominance.
Chauvinism of the “Great Han” majority
In China, as in other parts of the world, Muslims and other minority ethnicities have always faced some discrimination: A particular type of prejudice favoring the majority Han ethnicity, called Han chauvinism (大汉族主义 dà hànzú zhǔyì;literally Great Han-ism), has reared its head throughout the country’s history, and violence has erupted sporadically in places such as Yunnan, the southwestern province that is home to several substantial Hui communities.
So, is Chinese Islamophobia just a more pronounced extension of Han chauvinism? Certainly, in the arid northern regions where most Hui live, there is evidence of suspicion toward Muslims. Just south of Gansu Province lies Ningxia, a Hui autonomous region, where one week earlier my Chinese colleague had been urged to “be careful on the streets, [because the Hui] try to meet a ‘three-kill quota’ every year.” But hostility to Islam is being voiced beyond these regions.
As in North America and Europe, in China, proximity to Muslim people isn’t a prerequisite for Islamophobia. And Chinese Islamophobes don’t confine their outbursts to the Hui or Uyghur. A tour of Chinese social media turns up regular currents of hatred and suspicion, directed (in Chinese) at Islam and Muslims within and beyond China’s borders:
“Whether in China or abroad, Islam is essentially an evil cult — just take a look at some of the countries in the Middle East, then it’s clear.”
“When I look at a map of Muslim countries, I feel very scared…the threat is coming from the west, and also the south; apparently, Islamic terrorist organizations are actively trying to establish Islamic states in Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Thailand, and the southern Philippines.”

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Mob lynchings aren't about cows, but the erasure of India's Muslim identity

Trying to avoid the traffic snarls that come with the rains in the Capital, I found myself taking the metro recently, when I saw something that underlined the atmosphere prevailing in the country. As passengers flooded the metro coaches, cramming them to capacity, individuals started to blur into a sweaty mass of bodies. However, three passengers who boarded amidst all the chaos caught my attention.

These three were young boys. The oldest couldn't have been more than 12, while I pegged the youngest at around eight or nine. Clad in white kurtas with matching pyjamas, the three boys wore skull caps, their attire clearly marking them out as of these young Muslim boys, unaccompanied, and therefore completely vulnerable, made me worry for their safety. That these boys, innocent and unblemished, had anything to fear would ordinarily be unthinkable. However, Junaid Khan, a 16-year-old, had been lynched scarcely a week prior. Age was of no consequence to his murderers. His Muslim identity was all it took, a fact his murderers made amply clear as they hurdled anti-Muslim abuses while assaulting him.

In the backdrop of Junaid's lynching, was it unreasonable to fear for the safety of these boys? They were, after all, only a few years younger than Junaid.
In that moment, I not only became aware of their vulnerability, but also my own. As a bearded man, partial to kurtas and slippers, it wouldn't take much imagination to peg me for Muslim. Relatives and friends, equally well-meaning and paranoid, have warned me of the same. And I'm not an outlier.

Mere months ago, my brother, who sports a goatee, was told off by his college for having a “Muslim” beard. The reprisal came not because of any issues the college had with Islam, but because the institute was situated in Mangalore, a city where Muslim youth have been targeted by hardline Hindu groups in the recent past. “We cannot take responsibility for his safety if he keeps the beard,” was the message my parents received.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Massacre of Muslims: A town still in denial

Once every year, the Mothers of Srebrenica host a ceremony to remember their fathers, sons, husbands and brothers who were hunted down and systematically murdered by Serbian forces on 11 July 1995. They were killed because they were Muslim.
This intensely moving event is held in the Potocari cemetery, where some of the 8,000 victims whose bodies have been found are buried. Many more are thought to remain undiscovered in the surrounding mountains.
The graveyard is opposite the United Nations base which was fatally abandoned by Dutch peacekeepers, a decision which gave the green light for the Srebenica genocide to take place.

Usually the mayor of Srebenica plays a major role in organising the ceremony. Not this year. Camil Durakovic, President of the Organising Committee and himself a former mayor, told us that "the mayor was not invited because he denies the genocide". 
Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica, told us that "anybody who denies genocide is not welcome in the memorial centre".
Subasic, 67, lost her son Nermin and husband Hilmo in the genocide. She said: "In a town where genocide was committed, having a genocide denier as a mayor is unacceptable."
Her organisation speaks for an estimated 6,000 women who lost loved ones on 11 July 1995.

The denial of genocide

How can it be that Srebenica has elected a genocide denier just two decades after the deliberate, cold-blooded massacre of more than 8,000 Muslims in this once sleepy Bosnian town?
It is as if Buchenwald or Belsen had elected a Holocaust denier as mayor in the aftermath of World War Two.
The answer is grim. The massacre of Bosnian Muslims (so-called “Bosniaks”) in 1995 worked only too well.
Srebrenica is located in the Bosnian Republika Srpska, hard by the border with neighbouring Serbia. The Serbs ethnically cleansed the area – today a largely autonomous Serb majority statelet within Bosnia -  during the civil war, and Bosnian Muslims who return have not been made welcome.
Most of the town's former Muslim residents are either dead or have emigrated. Srebrenica is now controlled by Bosnian Serbs, many of whom refuse to accept that a genocide took place.
Nedzad Avdic, a survivor of the genocide, told us: "Our first child is starting at the local school. They are being taught that the genocide never happened.
“You turn on the TV and it is like the war never ended."

Tuesday 11 July 2017

FATWA: On Hadith regarding Angels not entering homes with dogs and other misconceptions: Shaykh Abou El Fadl

Image result for angels

Asalaamu Aleikum Dr. El Fadl:
My name is [Name Withheld for Privacy] and I would like to begin this email by saying Jazaka Allahu Khairan; I recently became aware of you and some of the works you've published. I've read excerpts from "Conference of the Books," particularly the chapter regarding dogs in Islam. I want to say that the information you provided in that chapter was honestly a God-send. I felt conflicted for so long because on one hand I was being told by the community and people I trusted knew better than myself (I am a convert of ten years Alhamdu Lillaah) that dogs are 'haram,' or 'unclean,' or 'cursed;' but on the other hand, I know Allah to be merciful, and couldn't possibly imagine that such loyal, merciful, wonderful animals could possibly be 'haram.' Your information, research, and explanations really helped to clarify what I knew in my heart and in my instincts to be true, and I thank you 1000 times for providing the information you shared. 
My question is, however, not about the issue of dogs and cleanliness, but regarding a particular Hadith I've heard mentioned many times about angels refusing to enter the homes of those who own dogs. I was hoping you could please help clear this up...? I cannot imagine this to be true, but I would greatly appreciate an explanation and breakdown of this Hadith, if possible, so that I may be able to respond appropriately when my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters try to offer friendly advice. Additionally, I want to be sure my choice to own my dog is permissible.
I am sorry to bother you, as I'm sure you probably receive hundreds of emails a day. I came to you for help, however, because the internet can be full of bad information, and my local imam is one that believes dogs are 'haram.' Therefore, I felt that my best chance at getting the best information would be to come to you directly. I humble myself before you and respectfully request your assistance in the matter. I would be most obliged, and forever grateful for your help. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration, and may Allah bestow many blessings upon you and your family.  
Jazaka Allahu Khairan,
Asalaamu Aleikum,
[Name Withheld for Privacy]



Al-salamu ‘alaykum and Ramadan Mubarak for you and your family and loved ones. I pray that Allah bestows upon you the gift of peace, balance and beauty, and that God guides you to the righteous path. Thank you for your message and inquiry. You asked specifically about the hadith attributed to the Prophet that angels will not enter a place or an abode where may exist. The report to which you refer typically states that angels will not enter a dwelling that has dogs or pictures. In most versions, the narration of the report is attributed to Abu Huraira, with a few versions attributed to others. I thought I should respond to your message because of the opportunity to address this specific narration. There are several important points to make here: 

1) All the versions of this report claim that angels will not enter a dwelling that contains dogs or pictures. By the terms of this report, it would follow that angels would not enter a place that has passport pictures, or drivers’ licenses or any document that has a picture. This is blatantly unreasonable and this constitutes a serious substantive problem with this narration; 

2) This report is rather inconsistent with the Qur’anic narrative on dogs, in which we are told in the chapter on the people of the cave that they were a particularly pious group of people and the subject of a great miracle and blessing from Allah. And yet, the Qur’an is careful to point out that the people of the cave were accompanied by a dog, and that both humans and the dog were the subject of God’s miracle and grace. It would be rather incongruous to claim that angels did not accompany the people of the cave because they had a dog, or at the very minimum, it would be extremely speculative to pretend that a blessed and pious people mentioned in the Qur’an were denied the presence of angels because of their dog; 

3) More importantly, this hadith makes a claim as to a matter of ‘aqidah (an article of faith) because it addresses a question involving the absence or presence of angels who are in the world of ghayb (or the unseen). Yet this hadith was categorized by all scholars of hadith to address a question of adab (a question of etiquette or proper social conduct). A hadith that could be considered credible enough to inform a question involving adab cannot be considered effective in matters involving ‘aqidah. Put differently, adab hadith or hadith that arise from the category of social etiquette are too low on the totem pole of authenticity and weight and thus, cannot be counted as effective or of sufficient weight to affect a question that involves faith. Hadith that establish articles of faith or ‘aqidah are typically mutawatir (of cumulative transmission) and therefore, of high authenticity, while hadith of adab, such as the one in question, are typically ahad (of singular transmission) and of much lower authenticity. To believe the angels enter or abstain from entering any particular place is a very serious matter and can only be established or negated by either the Qur’an or hadith of the highest level of authenticity. Hadith of singular transmission, such as the one in question, cannot either affirm or deny a matter involving the celestial world of angels and the like; 

4) It must be recognized then that when a hadith of singular transmission is declared to be sahih (or authentic) in Bukhari or Muslim or the other collections of hadith, all that means is that in the opinion of Bukhari or Muslim, there is a 51% chance, ie. a simple probability that the Prophet actually said what is attributed to him. A 51% chance is insufficient to affirm or deny matters of faith (‘aqidah), such as where angels dwell or do not dwell. What militates against this hadith is that many of the hadith that are demeaning to dogs or anti-pictures or anti-women have been attributed to Abu Huraira. Whether Abu Huraira narrated these hadiths or not is a very big question. But in all cases, scholars of usul (jurisprudence) know that this typology of hadith, ie. hadith involving pictures, women or dogs, and prayer, angels or purity, are suspect, which means that one cannot just simply quote them as if they establish a truth or a fact, or as if they are indicative of Allah’s will without careful analysis and reflection; 

5) As I have stated elsewhere, historically, dogs were an important symbolic issue in the past. On the one hand, they represented loyalty, faithfulness and companionship, but on the other, dogs were a source of a vicious plague, ie. rabies, and were also used by despotic forces to hunt down and torture political dissenters and accused heretics. So, we know for instance that not just in the Islamic world but in the medieval world generally, dogs inspired wonderful literary works, but at the same time, figured prominently in literature as a source of illness, death and torment. In the Roman world and the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, political dissenters, after being executed, had their corpses hung with the corpse of a poor murdered dog. The reason the corpse of a dog was hung with the corpse of a political dissenter was that it was a way of insulting the corpse and claiming power and dominance over the tribe, family or clan of the dissenter. Interestingly, one of the major tribes that first supported the Umayyads and then later rebelled against them and supported the Abbasids were known as the tribe of Kelb (dog). My point here is that dogs featured symbolically in politics and social narratives. So, when we have a narration in which it is claimed that Abu Huraira claimed to have heard the Prophet say that angels will not enter a place that has dogs or pictures, we have an affirmative duty to inquire into the historical circumstance that might have put such a report into circulation. Interestingly, although medieval scholars were aware of the existence of this hadith, it was never relied upon in discourses on theology and faith until the modern age. This is largely the influence of the Wahhabi school, which does not draw a distinction between hadith of singular transmission versus hadith of cumulative transmission and similarly, does not differentiate between the strength of a hadith’s authenticity and its impact in questions of faith or otherwise; 

6) It is a true tragedy that contemporary Muslims continue to rely on palpably unreasonable hadith such as the one in question. Quite simply, we should ask, why would angels not enter a place that has dogs? What singles out dogs as opposed to cockroaches, flies or mice? It is unquestioned in even the most conservative or Wahhabi schools that Muslims may own dogs for protection or hunting. So, are we to believe that angels will stay away from places simply because they have a guard dog on duty or because there is a hunting dog under a roof? Even the most Wahhabi of scholars have not dared to claim that angels will not enter a place that has a picture of the King or other members of the Royal Family. But yet, by the terms of this hadith, angels would have abandoned the entire earth because our earth is full of pictures everywhere, most obviously on the Internet on every personal computer. Are we to believe that because pictures on Facebook and selfies are zipping through the electronic atmosphere that angels will abandon Earth?

7) As I am sure you know, dogs are among God’s wonderful and beautiful creatures. We are taught that a prostitute was forgiven her sins because she saved the life of a dog, and we are taught that the people of the cave were selected by God for a great miracle, although as the Qur’an points out, they were in the company of a faithful and loving dog. What in these amazing and beautiful creatures would cause angels such aversion and disgust that they would stay away from a space that they occupy? I wish Muslims would use their intellects and hearts before they slander and vilify a great religion such as Islam, which is the truth that comes to us from God containing everything full of mercy, compassion and beauty. I am sure you agree that it does not sound merciful, compassionate or beautiful to claim that angels abandon a place where God’s creatures dwell, even if that creature is a mouse, a rat or a fly. It is my sincere belief that the reasons for this narrative are found in the creative symbolisms of history and in the political conflicts of the past (the same thing with many of the patriarchal hadith demeaning to women). And it is also my sincere belief that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) never uttered this hadith. I say this ever mindful that Allah knows best. Please ask God to forgive me my trespasses and bless us all.

Wa al-salamu ‘alaykum,
Shaykh Abou El Fadl

Monday 10 July 2017

Men deny us equality, not the Qur'an: a female Islamic judge in India speaks out

India’s first women Islamic judges : Afroz Begum (left) and Jahanara

Do you want to take her back alive? Or do you want her corpse?” That’s what Jahanara’s husband asked her mother as he beat his wife 10 years ago. That night, Jahanara gave up on her brutal marriage and left her home and four children.
Since then, her husband has refused to let her see the children, though they live in the same city, Jaipur. He has paid no alimony. He has refused to give her the 15 grammes of gold promised as part of the mandatory payment that Muslim men must make to their wives if the marriage ends. Her share in the marital home has also been denied her.
Seeking justice, 45-year-old Jahanara (who goes by only one name), went to see her local kazi or Islamic judge, who adjudicates in marriage, polygamy, divorce, triple talaq (instant divorce) and custody. The job of the kazi, usually a man, is to dispense justice according to Qur’anic principles. The post is generally passed down from father to son and is steeped in tradition.
However, like so many women before her, Jahanara came away disappointed and bitter. “He refused to help me get my rights,” she says. “I refused to believe that my situation was just. I went around Jaipur asking ulemas [scholars] if the injustice done to me was permitted by the Qur’an. I asked them: Is this my status as a woman in the Qur’an? Is this the ‘justice’ the Qur’an gives me? They all told me: ‘Yes. This is your position. Endure it.’”
She decided to fight back. Today, Jahanara is one of the first female kazis in India.
Since marriage is a legal contract under Islam, not a sacrament, the terms and conditions of the nikah (marriage) must be discussed and negotiated with the kazi. At the moment, contracts tend to favour the husband.
On a hot and muggy day, Jahanara and Begum sit in a small office in a winding alley off a noisy bazaar in Jaipur’s Muslim quarter. They are trying to soothe the acrimonious exchanges between Imran Khan and his young wife, Huma. Their one-year marriage has hit turbulence, and they hurl accusations at each other, with their parents egging them on.
Jahanara and Begum listen to the grievances of both sides. They tell the parents to keep out of the marriage and counsel the couple that they need to be more tolerant.
“A male kazi would have told Huma to go back home at once and obey her husband,” says Begum. “Most Muslim women don’t know anything about their rights. But now things will be different because we have learned what the Qur’an says.”
Sitting with them is Nishat Husain, head of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (a women’s group) in Jaipur, who says that the two kazis have much work to do.
“Before these two new kazis perform the nikah, they are going to ask the man for proof of his qualifications, for a death certificate if he says his wife died, and for a divorce certificate if he says he is divorced, for a medical certificate, for job proof. This has to be done to protect women, but traditional kazis don’t do it,” says Husain.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

UK sharia councils don’t prejudice women’s rights — they defend them

I spent last year travelling through Muslim Britain, partly in an attempt to address this niggling question of inherent misogyny. My findings surprised me. Take, for instance, the practice of sharia here, the system so widely viewed as inimical to the rights of women. In Oldham, 15 minutes up the road from Manchester Arena, I sat in on a session of the Wuzara Ulama sharia council, whose sole function turned out to be to grant divorces to women trapped in bad marriages, often over the heads of abusive husbands who didn’t want to separate. These women had no other escape route. Maulana Ejaz, the cleric from Dewsbury who heads the Council, estimates that in northern England where he operates, some 60 per cent of Muslim marriages are not registered under English civil law — which of course renders the English legal system powerless to offer would-be divorcees any redress at all.
None of Ejaz’s customers felt repressed by sharia. On the contrary, he was able to produce a dozen feedback forms from past clients, all of them women escaping abusive marriages, and all of them expressing gratitude for the councillors’ help and describing as ‘excellent’ the service they had received. In other words, the Wuzara Ulama — who do not charge for their services — are set up to defend, not prejudice, the rights of women.
There is much talk of ‘creeping sharia-isation’ in Britain, of the frightening notion that Muslims are evolving a parallel legal system that challenges and subverts the ancient principle of ‘one law for all’ laid out by Magna Carta in 1215. In the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, the then Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed there were more than 80 sharia courts in the UK. ‘Big ghettos’, he said, were being run according to sharia law while the authorities ‘turned a blind eye’ out of ‘moral cowardice’.
British sharia is not without its problems. The way it is implemented varies too much from council to council, and there is a good case for greater regulation. A formal government review has been underway since last year. But the notion that it is subversive is nonsense. Sharia scholars meet in councils, not courts, which operate subserviently to and in careful conjunction with English law, not in parallel to it. Islam, Ejaz told me, is clear on the matter of jurisdictional precedence: a good Muslim must follow the law of the land in which he lives. I found no Sharia ‘ghettos’, and the figure of 80 councils in Britain is a myth: Ejaz knew of no more than six. Given the essential public service his ulama provide, it may be that we need more of them, not fewer.
There is, of course, no punishment for crimes against God, such as adultery and drinking alcohol, in Britain, nor any likelihood of it ever being introduced. Stoning and hand-chopping — hudud punishments — are against the law. Sharia, in any case, may be a much gentler legal code than its public image suggests. I later heard an intriguing defence of hudud from a Salafi traditionalist in Oldham, a secondary school teacher called Samir, who thought of it as a kind of nuclear option, a weapon of deterrence rather than one intended for actual use, except in the most extreme circumstances. Adultery, for example, may be punishable under sharia by stoning to death. But the charge has first to be proven, not by one but by four independent witnesses to the act — and as he said, how often does that happen in real life? ‘There’s dogging, I suppose,’ said Samir after some thought. ‘But to be honest there’s not much of that going on in Oldham.’
I wondered about CCTV footage, but Samir said the jurists had thought of that and ruled it inadmissible: an adulterer can only be deemed in flagrante delicto if seen by actual people using their actual eyes. Islam, he went on, is more interested in contrition for sin than punishing people for it. The seriousness of the crime is clear from the sanction it theoretically carries, but the ‘four witnesses’ condition — introduced, as Samir saw it, by Muhammad himself — deliberately makes the punishment almost impossible to issue. To Samir, this was proof of the Prophet’s wisdom and ultimate humanity.
Terrible misogyny does exist in some Muslim communities, including British ones — of course it does, and it is a great social curse. The details of domestic violence I heard at the sharia divorce council were appalling. But inherent to Islam? A religion founded by a prophet married to Khadija, a rich, successful and very unrepressed-sounding business woman? I don’t think so. Many of the misogynistic ‘Muslim’ practices westerners most object to — arranged marriages, say, or honour violence — are sociocultural in origin, not religious. Female genital mutilation is millennia older than Islam. The clue is in the procedure’s medical name, Pharaonic infibulation. Non-Muslims often view the veil, particularly the Arabian niqab that leaves nothing but the eyes exposed, as a symbol of submissiveness rather than self-assertion, of repression rather than progress and liberation. At the beginning of my journey around Muslim Britain I felt sure I would find at least one niqabi who had been coerced into wearing it by a husband, a father, a brother. But I was wrong. I conducted more than a dozen interviews with niqabis and every one of them said they wore it out of choice; not one of them said they had been or felt forced.
Their explanations were startling in their variety. Some wore the niqab out of religious fervour. Some were political activists. Some, like Ahlam Saed, 25, from White City in west London, even wore it out of vanity.
‘I’m a make-up kind of girl,’ she told me, ‘and my eyes are my best feature. So I bought a niqab to draw attention to them.’
Saed became a fleeting internet sensation in 2016 when she posted footage of herself being abused in a shop in Shepherd’s Bush. Her assailant, an Afro-Caribbean who called her ‘Batman’ and ranted about Britain being a Christian country for Christians, was later arrested. ‘I only went in to get a packet of Starburst,’ Saed later told the Evening Standard. In the febrile debate over British Islam, nothing is ever as it seems.