Very recently, Conservative activist Theodora Dickinson tweeted that if Labour shadow minister “Naz Shah hates this country so much why doesn’t she go back to Pakistan?!” This vile show of racism was in response to Shah discussing her experience of poverty. Of course, the foolish Dickinson exposed her racist impulses – here there is no doubt. Neither is there any doubt that Tories have continued to tolerate hatred towards Muslims as well as racism towards minorities.
However, the point of this article is to point out something we’ve highlighted for years, that the public conversation in the UK on Islam is being subsumed under the banner of being Asian, and most notably Pakistani and Bangladeshi. Whilst it’s convenient to put this corruption on non-Muslims, the truth is that it’s driven by major Muslim organisations claiming to represent Muslims but who in reality use Islam in politics as a form of ethnic protest. The latest significant example is that of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). I am neither picking on the MCB nor do I claim that the organisation doesn’t do good things, and here I differentiate between the organisation and its individuals (and the great things they’ve achieved). This post is about what the organisation stands/speaks for – as an organisation.
Now MCB’s response to the Dickinson episode is unsurprising given its advocacy of the British Muslim APPG’s definition of Islamophobia which subsumes racism towards Asians as anti-Islam. When I raised this previously, the MCB were quick off the mark to tell me this wouldn’t be the case, yet as we suspected, that’s exactly how the MCB has functionalised it.
The response of the MCB to the tweet was simple: by the racist Dickinson telling Shah to go to Pakistan (although the UK is her country) she was being Islamophobic. For the MCB anti-Pakistani racism is anti-Islam, which obviously it’s not – it’s racist. This seemed clear to Shah herself who said, “Over the last few weeks BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities have been coming to terms with the racism they have faced over the years. In 2020 to be told to go back to Pakistan highlights the level of racism that still exists in some quarters of society.” Note that Shah DIDN’T conflate the episode with Islam.
Pakistani is not Islam and for the MCB to make such a crude conflation says that either it is wilfully appropriating a religious identity for Asian interests, or that it is ignorant of what Islam and Muslim is in which case it has no legitimate claim to representing Muslims and ought to rebrand as the Asian (Muslim) Council of Britain. Please note that the issue here isn’t with being Asian – people are free to celebrate their ethnicities (and we like to join in!), but with how the MCB is diminishing the level of Muslim public discourse in the UK instead of rectifying it and raising it as is the MCB’s moral responsibility. And this issue would equally need to be raised if a mainstreamed Muslim organisation did the same with Somali, Moroccan, Nigerian or Albanian ethnicities.
As believers we are stoutly against racism, xenophobia AND political anti-religious hatred. But we also acknowledge that they’re not all the same thing (although they obviously coalesce in particular situations). And as believers, we must be concerned for the future and how such organisations are feeding into it – the MCB are frequently called upon by the media where it positions itself as a mainstream Muslim organisation but where it actually seems occupied with ethnic rights (obviously admirable in and of itself). And no matter how much we raise the problematic nature of the conflation or call on self-labelled Muslim organisations to be Muslim rather than something else, whether we do so in the open or behind the scenes (which I’ve done for years), the MCB doesn’t seem interested. To be clear, our only interest in this is God’s cause, what it’ll mean to be a believer in the near future for us and our descendants, and our moral obligation to deliver the message. No matter the circumstances THESE will ALWAYS take precedence to the sincere believers. Yet the MCB and other such public organisations seem committed to something else.
The current conflation of ethnicity and religion in the public realm is heinous in God’s eyes. It causes people to believe Islam is an ethnic identity specific to certain groups of people and their culture, rather than a natural inclination (fiṭrī) that enhances ANY culture and historical way of living. God does not want to undermine British culture in the UK but to maintain it and bring out its best aspects. He wants the British people to be the best they can be, and the final Prophet of God showed us how to constructively situate the sharī’ah in any cultural context. Just as he did with the ancient Arabs, we too are expected to do so amongst us Brits. Calling to God is the believers’ priority, and where there’s a necessary contradiction, the narrative that promotes universal tawhīd (monotheism) and hanīfīyah (Abrahamic subservience) always takes precedence even if it means a negligible injury to ourselves or our ethnic interests. Selfless commitment to God and His deen is what God calls to, and where we’re having an internal communal dialogue then yes, the matter is clear: “Do people think they will be left alone after saying ‘we believe’ without being put to the test? We tested those who went before them..”
No ethnicity has more right to the Abrahamic truth than others yet those deliberately making such conflations suggest otherwise. When believers speak in public then it’s clear: “Who speaks better than someone who calls people to God, does what is right, and says, ‘I am one of those devoted to God’?” (41:33) But this call is not only severely hindered, I believe the Establishment are very happy about it – they love to see a weak and unthreatening cause. The narrative that the MCB assist has meant that people LITERALLY tell you that they wouldn’t be Muslim because they don’t want to be Pakistani, or view the true religion of Abraham and the sharī’ah given to Muhammad as simply a foreign culture. Not only has something gone VERY wrong, the failure to actively counter THIS erroneous narrative demonstrates moral culpability.
Of course, to those who seem to have little knowledge of the final message (the Quran), the obligation of the believers, and the intersection between political theory and public theology, it’s not surprising. So rather than separate the pristine sharī’ah from what taints it (all cultures are fallible with problematic elements), the MCB has been adamant not to do so. The very simple point seems lost on the MCB that you cannot suggest Asian and Muslim are the same thing, but then when Asians do things you don’t like (like in Rotherham) you argue that it’s not a Muslim issue and calling it so is Islamophobic, then you’re clearly not getting the optics.
Allegiance to God and the godly cause, which the MCB seems to conflate with contemporary social justice activism and the interests of the Asian community, compels us to challenge such state of affairs. (Of course, a shar’ī approach includes social justice, but our activism is shaped by shar’ī objectives and variables.) Again, were it not for the damaging consequences of a major organisation in the public eye misrepresenting the Muslim cause, posts like these would be unnecessary. But alas, they stray into territory that necessitates it.
For clarity, here are some of the ways in which this is a grave problem for those committed to the advocacy and spread of Abrahamic monotheism and the sharī’ah (da’wah). It undermines:
- The call to true Abrahamic monotheism free from foreign cultural baggage and an ethnic character
- The basis of a public conversation that starts with revelation rather than defending against ethnic conflations
- The presentation of God’s final word that sits within the British cultural context
- Legitimately locating problematic ethnic attitudes and shar’ī rectification required within ethno-cultural communities
- Actual anti-Muslim hatred face by believers of various heritages
If Dickinson had told a Nigerian/Malaysian to go back to Nigeria/Malaysia, would the MCB have called that Islamophobia? Probably not (and of course, it wouldn’t be). Either Muslim organisations must stop using Islam as a shield for ethnicity-related issues, or we must accept that being a Muslim in the public realm is basically to be ethno-cultural. And if the latter is true then we can’t blame believers who’ll refuse the Anglicised appellation of ‘Muslim’ or rail against its misuse. If such organisations refuse to listen or chart a course built on both shar’ī and social knowledge, how long do we go and how perverse must the public discourse on Islam become until we say, “Not in our name?”