There is a fundamental question to begin with: what and who does a definition that centres around ‘Anti-Muslim racism‘ and disparaging ‘Muslimness‘ seek to protect and why?
I assert that the paper makes it clear that it wants to protect people of South Asian origin (the who) and their ethnic practices/identity (the what) when they are negatively targeted (the why).
1. By referring to anti-Muslim racism, the paper and definition racialises Muslims. The APPG paper suggests that racialising Muslims is a problem yet does exactly the same thing. My argument here is that where people are being racist we ought to call out their racism, not perversely accept their conflation and tacitly affirm it by proscribing their actions on the false premise.
2. The paper’s focus on the Asian community intimates that the authors seek to use Islamophobia to address racism towards Asians in the UK, whilst also failing to explain why existing anti-racism law doesn’t work. The use of stats consistently present Muslims as an Asian ethnic group in contrast to White Britons (some of whom are also Muslims). The paper throughout intimates that being white and Muslim is mutually exclusive, a reprehensible proposition.
3. If the point is that Islamophobia is merely a word we use to identify a type of racism, then using a word with ‘Islam’ in it is not only inaccurate, it allows criticism (valid or not) of a culture to be positioned as a criticism of what God has revealed, when the two are very different, no matter what racists might claim (which ought to instead be challenged). The APPG’s definition only makes sense if we see Muslims synonymously a race or ethnic group, which unfortunately many Muslims do, hence the support afforded it by various Muslim groups. The conflation is perverse, both from understanding what racism actually is, as well as what God wants of us believers.
4. The issue with anti-Muslim prejudice is quite unlike racism: anti-racism is to seek sameness amongst ‘races’, and in this way supporters of the definition put the sharī’ah and what it requires of us on parity with ethno-cultural practices.
5. As highlighted by various groups already, the definition largely sidelines Muslims who aren’t Asian. What’s significant is that much of this feeds into the major problems British believers face within the community, amongst which is an ethno-cultural hegemony on Islam in the UK.
6. Aside from the idea that ‘Muslimness’ is (a) an amateurish term which betrays the gravity of the undertaking, and (b) that the purpose of a definition is to evade ambiguity (thus ‘Muslimness’ making it unfit for purpose), if the intention was to rely on ambiguity so that the term might encompass several ideas about what it means to be Muslim, holding Islamophobia to be racism inherently tells us that the authors see “Islam” as a race, “Muslim” as an ethnic identity and “Muslimness” as ethno-cultural practices – all of which we must resolutely repudiate, both assertion or tacit affirmation.
7. The racialisation of Islam as a brown man’s practice ‘otherises’ believers in a way that is detrimental to believers and the cause of faith in Britain, which should be the believers’ foremost priority. Many expressions of ‘Muslimness’ today in the UK, whether proclaimed by Muslims or perceived by onlookers, have little to do with the actual faith but are an extension of Asian cultural norms (and occasionally Arab cultural symbols). Clearly the authors of the paper too advocate this where they adopt the description of ‘Muslimness’ as religious and cultural practices including clothing such as “kurtas” (Asian tunics). Few Muslims have the ability to differentiate a faith issue from an ethno-cultural one so it cannot be said that targeting “Muslimness” is necessarily racist. There are often many things Muslims do, suggesting it’s their religion or culture, that deserves rebuke or condemnation (forced marriages being an example). And we can’t denounce people for assuming these things to be cultural aspects of Islam when there are ethno-cultural Muslims who publicly claim they are!
8. The definition allows (and inevitably encourages) anyone to claim something as an “expression of Muslimness” as a ploy to shut down valid criticism of their ethno-culture. Defenders claim that this is not so but fail to explain how this is avoided by the definition.
9. The weakness of the definition is in the racialisation of Islam as opposed to focusing on hatred or prejudice against Muslims from varying backgrounds and recognising that there could be, but not always, a racial or xenophobic element to anti-Muslim hatred. The cultural racism against Muslims the paper claims to address is, in reality, cultural prejudice against Asians. The racist term “paki” has merely morphed into one where Asians are now also associated with particular practices such as not eating pork. I do not negate that racism is a source for prejudice, but we need to address racism towards Asians as racism rather than appropriating Islam, and consider a more nuanced approach to dealing with the racial/xenophobic elements to anti-Muslim hatred. Muslim disadvantage requires treatment that has nothing to do with race, such as time for Jumu’ah or prayer area, additions to uniforms (khimar), etc. To seek racial parity rather than viewing anti-Muslim prejudice as something little to do with racism against Asians incongruously undermines the faithful’s actual Muslim needs.
10. Many people find Islam or the idea of becoming true monotheists unappealing (or even repugnant!) because they see it as becoming Asian or having to adopt Asian culture. The conflation has done much to impede tawhid and a meaningful conversation on the nature of hanifiyyah (Abrahamic monotheism), imaan (faith), and the inspirational and uplifting nature of revealed guidance. The definition aids the conflation which diminishes the case for religious hatred itself, as well as institutionalising the conflation across society, in order to protect an ethnic group (which can be done in other ways), undermining what God wants and throwing that under the bus.