Islamophobia and a working definition: A faith-based perspective

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I commend the well-intentioned support of the APPG, and the Muslims who have sincerely wanted to address the issue of anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice. But here I comment on the APPG definition from a faith-based perspective and consider wider ramifications which should not be overlooked by those who believe and are committed to the bigger picture that God wants.

To talk about being a Muslim is to claim subservience to God in the way understood by Abraham and his prophetic descendants all the way to Muhammad, to be informed by God’s revealed word and seek to live an honourable life within one’s context. What God expects of us is to show appreciation and heartfelt reverence towards Him, to deal righteously with others, and to educate and inform people of the entirety of what God has said.

But the definition neither does this, nor does it safeguard believers to achieve this, which fundamentally ought to be the believers’ agenda in any such definition. But that’s the point, it’s not being defined by believers nor according to their agenda, but by those who have an ethnic one, who accept and then promote the fallacious premises of anti-Asian racists who regard Islam as an inherited ethno-cultural identity. Our godly duty is not to give in to their assumptions/conflations for some short-term gain but that God ‘made you [believers] into a just community so that you may bear witness [to the truth] before others…’ (2:143) This means taking a nuanced approach where we deal with racism as racism, and religious conflations as conflations; unpicking what is erroneous whilst challenging what is unjust. Ostensibly, the definition adopts a lazy approach.

I’d like to be very clear here. It may be argued: “But it’s simply a secular definition” and “the definition might be about Asians but it helps Muslims as well!” I do not negate these points and I accept that the definition might tangentially help believers from one perspective. What I am asserting is that whilst all of these are valid points in themselves, the definition will simultaneously obstruct greater shar’ī objectives (which do not seem to have been considered), and so the situation is one where the negatives outweigh the positives. How so?

  1. God tells us “Say: My worship and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of all the worlds. He has no partner. This is what I am commanded…” (6:162-163) and we are instructed “be God’s helpers, as Jesus son of Mary said to the disciples, ‘Who will come with me to help God?” (61:14) These two verses tell us to be selfless advocates for God’s cause, putting its interest before our own. But the definition puts our human interests before “God’s cause” allowing for God and His message to be dragged through the mud by association with cultural norms, some of which are particularly regressive. This inhibits wider society from interacting with divine guidance and acknowledging its universality because it’s assumed to be Asian, an already widespread assumption significantly helped along by this definition. Thus the egregious appropriation of the faith impedes the call to tawhīd, obscuring the nature of proper subservience to God and the appeal of the sharī’ah, implying that it’s intrinsically for foreigners.
  2. The institutionalisation of the definition also has a profound impact on the direction in which Islam is going in the UK. Those engaged on the ground identify the current contest in organisations and mosques between “immigrant Islam” that treats Islam as a folk belief and cultural product from the east, and those who are committed to engaging God through reason and revelation and practically living out divine guidance in the context of Britain (a loose explanation). The definition not only supports “immigrant Islam” but seeks to institutionalise it as the dominant representation of Islam in the political and social world, affording it recognition and authority. It informs the national narrative and feeds public perception. This is unacceptable for it undermines a confident western faith identity and severely undermines the future of Islam in Britain as a cosmopolitan western religious tradition, warranting it to be viewed as personal ethnic culture.
  3. Even amongst Asian Muslims (whom the definition seeks to protect), it doesn’t bode well. The APPG’s racialisation of Islam and ‘othering’ of Muslims feeds into a lack of belonging some exhibit by framing being a Muslim as something foreign. This lack of belonging has created much dissonance in sections of the British Muslim populace, and has overarchingly crippled us in social and political affairs.
  4. “Muslimness” is a hazy concept that places ethno-cultural products/practices beyond the domain of criticism (although advocates may not intend this). Consequently it obstructs believers from ‘enjoining virtue and forbidding wrong’. For example, some will inevitably argue that an “expression of Muslimness” is to take a position that bars women from mosques and they shouldn’t be staunchly criticised for doing so. It works for anyone who claims Muslimness, and in some circumstances (such as the Ahmadis) even questioning the validity of their claims to Islam might be sanctioned.

As believers, we cannot be SO committed to the interests of ethnic identity that we’ll appropriate the deen and misrepresent our faith to protect it. I understand the wider fears but the current effort is reactionary, doing very little for us now and impairing the cause of God in the long run. As believers it is our foremost duty to maintain perspective and be helpers to God, to maintain the godly message and keep focused on what God wants, without becoming fundamentally side tracked. The greatest success, without the negative ramifications, would be achieved by addressing the conflation and persuading the masses, which is why the Prophet never stopped what he was doing in Makkah to start a protest campaign against the pagan Quraish. In fact, they tried all sorts of tactics to divert his attention but what worked most was his dogged pursuit of sticking to his call, not becoming embroiled in theirs. When a sahabi came to the Prophet and complained about the situation of the Makkan believers, one that was far worse than ours, he was told that the outcome would be theirs but they were being impatient.

The definition is not only ill-judged but counter-productively undermines the future of Islam and what God might expect in the now. Thus I hold, all things considered, that believers ought to oppose the proposed definition. I would implore believers to keep God in mind and not be driven by fear, and that God has promised truth shall prevail. But it requires a combination of effort, patience and tawakkul. Furthermore, we cannot simply repeat mantras such as the definition being a secular affair when we’ve now highlighted its adverse ramifications on the deen and its future. The job of Islamic scholars is not offer some superficial sanctification, such as supportively pepper issues of social justice with verses of the Qur’an, but to holistically consider situations and keep in mind as many variables as possible when speaking to an issue. Many a secular argument shall be made, and there will be a few who will pursue weak or godless justifications. I’m not suggesting that the following applies to anyone in this context, but I’d like to recap general propositions that God calls to:

  • “When they are told, ‘Turn to God’s revelations and the Messenger’ you see the hypocrites turn right away from you.” (4:62)
  • “There is the type of people whose views on the life of this world may please you, he even calls on God to witness what is in his heart, yet he is the bitterest of opponents.” (2:204)

In politics, as anyone with any experience knows, there is no panacea, no perfect solution. Everything comes with its pros and cons and it’s about weighing these up, and planning in anticipation of what can go both right AND critically wrong down the line. God calls the intelligent أولو الألباب, literally ‘those of substance’, because they avoid lazy and myopic thinking unlike those who “only know the outer surface of this life and are heedless of the life to come.” (30:7) There is no doubt that we can aspire to be the former.

NB: These posts are not a full treatment of the matter so they do not include all of the arguments nor present things as compellingly as a full treatment might. They’re merely brief considerations.

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