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(1) He has some reasonable diagnosis.
(2) He has no clue at all about accurate diagnosis.
(3) He has no proposal for treatment of the disease.
(4) He has not decided to fall clearly on the side of islam.
(5) Muslims should spend time answering his views.
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O our Lord take the love of this world and fear of death out of our hearts.
Hassan nisar is an illiterate man, a complete jahil...who has no knowledge about islam as evident from his statements. If you watch this guy for sometime, you will become a patient of hypertension. He is a lunatic, who needs immediate treatment.
I agree, ya ukhti, that he is a nuisance.
The trouble is that we are the ones on the receiving end of his diatribe.
It causes damages to our image and our interests.
Hence the responsibility falls upon us to answer him.
And the Muslims of Pakistan should take up that responsibility because they are his prime target.
Though in his simplicity his must certainly be thinking that he is doing a favour both to Pakistan and Muslims in general.
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O our Lord take the love of this world and fear of death out of our hearts.
Open letter to Shehla Rashid, from former AMU Students Union leader
Let me express my deep sense of shock and disgust over an FIR filed against you in Aligarh.
I insist on addressing you like that - not only because you and many amazing young minds before you in JNU have been my comrades for more than two decades now - but also because the word comes from the root "camaraderie", the idea that defines student politics in general, and the strong bonds that JNU and AMU students have built for a progressive polity in particular.
Despite what has happened, those bonds must endure.
Let me, therefore, at the outset, express my deep sense of shock and disgust over a first information report (FIR) filed against you in Aligarh by the AMU Students Union, which claims you insulted Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post - a 1000-word statement that those students, in the age of 140-word tweets and emoticonned Whatsapp conversations, were too ignorant to understand. The other possibility is they are deliberately misreading the post and claiming being hurt to "fix" you for speaking your mind.
The men in Aligarh are not used to women speaking their minds, let alone having one. With you, it becomes worse. It's not only your gender that they despise, it's your left-liberal political persuasion too. Aligarh in general has never been comfortable with liberal and progressive forces, despite being one of the major centres of progressive writers and academics in the country.
That the police complaint against you came only two days after you and other comrades from JNU, Delhi University, and Allahabad University were invited by the same AMU Students Union for a symposium on the role of student leaders in "building contemporary society" is one of the many unfortunate ironies that AMU has long been used to revel in.
In the horribly misinterpreted January 9 post on Facebook, you had attempted a more nuanced understanding of hate speech by asserting a rational mind’s democratic right to ask questions and raise doubts, even if they involve religious figures like Ram or Mohammad. There is difference between inquiry and incitement, you argued in that post, with considerable sensibility and success.
Zia Nomani in youthkiawaaz.com was right. “The post quoted some controversial phrases like "Ram was an asshole" and "Mohammad was a paedophile" to distinguish between hate speech and "hateful" speech. It’s a paradox that the ex-JNUSU vice-president Shehla was accused of hate speech in her Facebook post, which was meant to condemn it in the first place,” he wrote.
However, allow me to put this controversy in some context. Far from being an isolated hounding of a Muslim woman studying in another university, it actually fits into a long trope of myopia, misogyny and mindset that defines not only AMU, but even the average Muslim man.
Student politics in Aligarh, unlike your university or most others, is ad-hoc and devoid of affiliations from the mainstream political parties. That emptying of politics from politics per se ends up creating student leaders, whose only claim to electoral positions is the most banal slogan you can ever hear in a university: "tempo high hai".
Please don't ask me what it means. I don't know either and have remained intrigued for long. But it is this singular slogan that has set the agenda and decided student elections in Aligarh for nearly a century now. It is "tempo high hai" that has created leaders from Aligarh, whatever little it has produced.
It is this political and intellectual bankruptcy that has marked student politics in AMU. In the absence of political education and atmosphere that an institution of higher education is supposed to provide, more so in a campus like Aligarh, student leaders are left to fend for themselves. Teachers either don't mentor or are too scared to do it. The administration run by former Army generals or senior bureaucrats does all it can to ensure the campus remains depoliticised.
I don't know if you have noticed, but AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia are the only two central universities in India often run by non-academics. While that trend is set to hopefully stop soon, it's appalling why nobody within the community or outside questioned and resisted it for decades.
Such administrators despise progressive politics, victimise teachers or students who dare to do it, and end up undermining the legitimate and democratic right of students to call elections or form political alliances.
What happens in such a depoliticised campus is that student leaders end up pandering to populist notions of religion, tradition or victimhood. Easy and regressive slogans take over more pressing issues like the recent University Grants Commission gazette notification you also questioned AMU about. Politics of emotion takes over politics of consequence. The FIR against you over alleged disrespect to the Prophet explains that.
"I doubt if AMUSU has any sentiments left, let alone religious!" you said in another angry Facebook post after the police case was filed. I have to agree with you on that. Moreover, religious sentiments have no place in an academic insitution.
If AMU or its student leaders claim a religious right over their campus and dictate who gets to enter it, they are failing the very idea of Aligarh and its long history of liberal and alternate politics.
As you so aptly put it in the same Facebook post: "Pehle insaan baniye, phir musalman banne ka dawa kariye." For me, as long as you are a student, insaaniyat (humanism) is all that matters.
(The author is a former president of AMU Students Union.)
What is Hate Speech and What is Not: Shehla Rashid
January 9, 2017
(Shehla Rashid’s long post on her facebook wall which we thought must be read widely.)
A few years ago, a prominent (upper-caste Hindu woman) journalist tweeted: “Ram was an asshole”, referring to Lord Ram’s treatment of Sita, of having suspected her chastity, etc. Immediately, she was castigated, endlessly abused by right-wing Hindutvawadi trolls, branded as a whore of Pakistanis, issued rape threats, etc. They said she engaged in hate speech. She might have hurt sentiments of Ram’s supporters, sure, but it was not “hate speech”, in the strict sense of the term. All progressives stood by the journalist unflinchingly, upholding her right to offend.
Obviously, the trolls would not appreciate that what THEY were engaging in was actual hate speech against a living woman (not against a dead religious figure). We know that hate speech against women or sexual minorities is never recognised as hate speech at all, and is totally justified as a punishment for hurting “religious sentiments” — because, religious sentiments are the only “sentiments” that exist; women, sexual minorities, transgenders, disabled, etc. do not have sentiments and can be abused at will!!
Now, did she really engage in hate speech against Hindus?
I have a few thoughts and a limited point to make about this- limited, because I’m not giving away my dissertation topic in this post itself! Contrary to what Bhakts say, I do study 😀
1) Hateful speech is not necessarily hate speech. There’s a distinction. Example:
“I hate Modi.” — it can be termed as hateful, but it does not technically qualify as hate speech, because there is no imminent threat of violence.
“I hate Modi, therefore Modi should be beheaded/killed for a reward.” — in front of an audience of 10,000 who are holding swords outside Modi’s house — qualifies as hate speech.
2) Hatred for a certain religious figure is not necessarily hate speech. It can be blasphemy, but not necessarily hate speech, unless said in a context where imminent violence based on the statement is a real possibility. Example:
“Ram was an asshole.” ≠ hate speech.
“Mohammed was a pedophile.” ≠ hate speech.
“Mohammed was a rapist, so all Muslims are rapist.” = hate speech. [incitement to discrimination]
“Is katuey ko hamare hawale kardo; isko subah tak gayab kar dete hain.”, said by those who assaulted Najeeb, in presence of a crazed mob of over 40 ABVP goons = hate speech.
“Gay people should be killed, because a book says so.” = hate speech.
“Kashmiris are pigs and should be bombed en masse.” = hate speech.
“All Hindus living in Lahore should be killed.” = hate speech. [incitement to violence in a context where violence based on the statement is imminent]
“Muslims living in India are haramzade.” = hate speech. [incitement to discrimination in a context where discrimination based on the statement is imminent, and already present]
“This Muslim bitch should be raped.” = hate speech [incitement to violence in a society where majority of the women women are in real danger of being raped, & Muslim women are likely to be raped during a riot-like situation.]
3) Can historical figures who lived in the past be evaluated in terms of principles that we cherish today? Now, my position on the subject is YES. We must be free to evaluate how colonialists, conquerors, religious figures, reformers like Marx, Bhagat Singh, Vivekananda and Ambedkar, did on certain counts. If we are free to praise, we must also be free to criticise. We should be able to evaluate Akbar’s secularism as well as his feudalism, just as we can evaluate Hitler or Curzon or Churchill. We must be able to evaluate the imaginative skill of an emperor just as freely as we are free to condemn how he chopped off the hands of his workers.
However, if your position on No. 3) is NO, then please stick to it in a consistent manner. But don’t switch sides based on convenience. If we are free to ask savarna feminists to criticise the Hindu religion and caste system and Hindu religious figures, we can also ask “Islamic” feminists to criticise Muslim history and ideology in the same manner. Either none or both. Be consistent.
4) The question of “respect” — We should generally practise respect and restraint and not say extreme things, that’s my normative position on the subject! However, you cannot demand respect for your religion, while conveniently disrespecting other religions/religious ideologies. It’s just sheer hypocrisy. If you demand respect for your religion, then please also stand by women who are abused by followers of your religion.
More than gods, people deserve “respect”.
Gods can protect themselves, but people, women, authors/artists, critics of religion, are defenseless in the face of hate speech and have to face actual violence (which gods do not have to face).
If you think MF Hussain should not have been hounded out of the country, then please also stand by Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie.
If you believe that the journalist (mentioned at the beginning of the post) was right in saying “Ram was an asshole”, then please also respect the right of others to suggest that Mohammed was feudal, etc. or whatever.
Don’t hide your religious superiority complex or bigotry in the guise of third-wave feminism. I do understand how Muslims are a minority and Hindus are a majority, and the respective power equations between the two communities. However, do not use this to simply outlaw discussions of patriarchy in Islam. It doesn’t help. Because if you understand “power” and “hierarchy”, then please also understand that it exists in its starkest form between men and women.
We oppose Modi, not because we are Muslims, but because we are Marxist, Ambedkarite, feminist.
Those who shield the religious bigots in the name of being progressive, please don’t patronise us Muslims as being touchy and not capable of criticism or of handling criticism. We are quite capable of it.
Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.
By Elizabeth Kolbert
The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight. The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.Illustration by Gérard DuBois
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.
Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.
As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.
“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”
A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.
Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.
The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?
In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.
Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.
Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.
The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.
If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.”
Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.
A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.
In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.
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This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.
Among the many, many issues our forebears didn’t worry about were the deterrent effects of capital punishment and the ideal attributes of a firefighter. Nor did they have to contend with fabricated studies, or fake news, or Twitter. It’s no wonder, then, that today reason often seems to fail us. As Mercier and Sperber write, “This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.”
Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” (Riverhead), with a look at toilets.
Virtually everyone in the United States, and indeed throughout the developed world, is familiar with toilets. A typical flush toilet has a ceramic bowl filled with water. When the handle is depressed, or the button pushed, the water—and everything that’s been deposited in it—gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system. But how does this actually happen?
In a study conducted at Yale, graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices, including toilets, zippers, and cylinder locks. They were then asked to write detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again. Apparently, the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped. (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)
Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.
“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.
This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.
Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)
Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.
“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.
Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”
One way to look at science is as a system that corrects for people’s natural inclinations. In a well-run laboratory, there’s no room for myside bias; the results have to be reproducible in other laboratories, by researchers who have no motive to confirm them. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.
In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. Of course, what’s hazardous is not being vaccinated; that’s why vaccines were created in the first place. “Immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,” the Gormans note. But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, and that there’s no link between immunizations and autism, anti-vaxxers remain unmoved. (They can now count on their side—sort of—Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians.)
The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe.
The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”
“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. ♦
Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”
This article appears in other versions of the February 27, 2017, issue, with the headline “That’s What You Think.”
The Muslim Response To Islamophobia is Destroying Us From Within
Fear of anti-Muslim bigotry is creating severe consequences for Muslim faith.
American Muslims are scared and rightfully so. Many are worried about what the future might hold with Trump’s presidency and the increase in public expressions of Islamophobia being spewed right and left. While fear is a valid emotion and is necessary in waking us up out of complacency, it can also lead to negative consequences.
As we read throughout the Quran, all communities of believers are tested with fear-inducing trials. Faced with these tests, successful communities stay united on a shared commitment to God and His religion in spite of the fear. This is often easier said than done. Maintaining commitment to one’s faith and its tenets is not easy in times of trials (fitan) and, oftentimes, fear and anxiety can cloud the decisionmaking process. For Muslims today, anxiety about Islamophobia has the potential to lead our community down a dangerous road. To see how this happens, we only need to refer to the Quran and its account of Bani Israel. In many instances, a strong sense of fear led Bani Israel to directly disobey God’s commandments, which in turn led to ruin (for example, as described in Surah Yunus: “But no one believed Moses, except [some] youths among his people, for fear of Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them.” [10:83]).
We see the same dynamic in religious and ethnic communities today. An eye opening article recently published in The Federalist is provocatively titled “How Liberalism Destroyed the American Jew.” The article describes how Jewish American political and moral choices over the past several generations have resulted in a thorough loss of faith. A Pew study cited in the article asked Jewish American respondents: What does it mean to be Jewish? One might imagine that the answer would have something to do with believing in God, reading the Torah, or following Abraham and Moses. These points, however, do not factor into Jewish identity according to the majority of the Jewish Americans surveyed by Pew whereas “eating traditional Jewish foods” and “having a good sense of humor” do. The two religious features a minority of respondents did recognize as part of their identity was “caring about Israel” and “observing Jewish law,” but the latter was at the bottom of the list. Other common features of their identity Jewish Americans noted include “leading a moral life” and “working for justice/equality,” though these, of course, are not values unique to Judaism.
What does all this have to do with fear? Well, it is important to note that “remembering the Holocaust” is the overall number one component of Jewish identity that seventy-three percent of Jews recognized. Is it a coincidence that this component has to do with fear? Is it a coincidence that remembering the one greatest act of anti-Semitism, i.e., the Holocaust, is what most Jews consider to be what being Jewish is all about?
There is a clear connection between the remembrance of the Holocaust being the number-one feature of Jewish identity and the fact that the rest of the list has little to nothing to do with Judaism as a theology and more to do with cultural practices and general values that are endorsed by the dominant American culture at large. Fear is a potent motivator. Fear is a potent justifier. Virtually anything can be justified if one believes that the alternative is the Holocaust.
In contrast to the Jewish community, however, the majority of the American Muslim community has not had genocide in its history (though segments of the American Muslim community, such as Black, Native, Bosnian, and Palestinian American Muslims, among others, have). Undoubtedly, American Muslims must be vigilant in the face of any threat. At the same time, the community must be aware of how preparing for a threat can have unintended negative consequences on the community’s faith. For example, making exceptions to, bending, and even discarding otherwise well-established religious principles all become possible if one feels, even remotely, that the spectre of genocide looms. And if the possibility of genocide is on the table, then one can justify to oneself doing anything to embed oneself into the status quo, avoid being politically incorrect, avoid sticking out, avoid going against the grain of the dominant culture, all in order to minimize any hostility by society at large. All of the community’s political, social, and cultural decision making is potentially short-circuited by this fear. Of course, none of this is to say that fear is not a perfectly valid, justified emotion. It certainly is and can be used to accomplish great good. But the question is, even when it is justified, how does that fear affect everything else?
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Muslim Identity Means Hijab and Hummus?
Recent sociological and anthropological research examines precisely this question. Numerous studies analyze how “minorities” react in the face of “cultural anxiety” due to widespread bigotry and discrimination. What these studies show is that cultural anxiety is positively correlated with two things: 1) “ethnic essentialism” and 2) “multicultural ideology.” In laymen’s terms, this means that when a minority group feels threatened by the dominant group, they will, first of all, double down on those aspects of their culture and values that they believe to constitute the essence of their group identity. Second, they will increasingly tend to endorse multiculturalism, namely the view that a healthy society should treat all groups within it equally and that the presence of such groups enriches society overall.
These dynamics accurately describe the internal discourse within the American Muslim community since the September 11th attacks. Obviously, Islam is not a culture per se and Muslims are not an ethnicity, but the underlying concepts still apply given that, from a secular perspective, Islam can be considered a set of values, beliefs, and practices, which is what secular academic discourse considers a culture to be for the most part.
That caveat aside, it is beyond dispute that American Muslims have felt a great deal of “cultural anxiety” due to, not only Islamophobic attitudes in American society generally, but also due to hostile government measures that have targeted Muslims and their institutions. The anxiety and fear felt by the Muslim community has led to both essentialism and multiculturalism. Feeling pressure from the dominant American culture has had (what is from an Islamic standpoint) a positive effect of making Muslims more embedded in their Muslim identity, in a word, more “unapologetically Muslim.” At the same time, American Muslims have adopted more of a multicultural attitude as they have become more socially and politically engaged. For example, since 9/11, Muslim involvement in interfaith events, interfaith coalitions, etc., saw a massive increase. Muslim involvement in mainstream political groups and coalitions also jumped. The language of Muslim leaders, imams, and speakers has also been suffuse with expressions of multiculturalism, diversity, relevance, engagement, etc.
While anxiety and fear drive these tendencies of essentialism and multiculturalism, the two are often opposing forces. This is because multiculturalism is characterized by coming together on the basis of shared interests and other commonalities whereas essentialism is characterized by emphasizing differences in order to distinguish one’s own group from the dominant majority. How is this tension resolved?
For American Muslims, the danger is that this tension could result in a deliberate de-emphasis and minimization of those beliefs, values, and practices of Islam that most directly conflict with the dominant culture while overemphasizing specific Muslim cultural markers. This would allow Muslims to maintain some form of a unified, essentialistic identity — even though, primarily, it is cultural rather than religious identity — while also integrating themselves within the larger American milieu and its institutions, which, for the most part, tolerate and even celebrate cultural diversity but not theological, ideological, or ethical diversity. We have seen some signs of this in context of Muslim involvement with certain American political parties in recent years. And again, the example of Jewish Americans proves instructive. As a community, Jewish Americans have a very strong sense of identity and group cohesion, i.e., due to their essentialism, while also being well integrated socially, politically, and culturally, i.e., due to their multiculturalism. In other words, they have resolved the essentialism-multiculturalism divide. But as the previously cited Pew study discovered, the resulting Jewish identity has little to do with the particulars of Judaism as a religion.
Muslim and Atheist at the Same Time
This secularization of Jewish identity also explains the phenomenon of “Jewish atheism.” Not all Jews agree that one can be a Jew without believing in God. Nonetheless, Jewish atheist institutions have become a well established and growing part of the overall Jewish American community. This is not surprising given that half of all Jewish Americans have doubts about God’s existence.
We see similar trends in the Muslim community, as new labels like “ex-Muslim” and “atheist Muslim” have been adopted by people who consider themselves “culturally Muslim” but “theologically atheist.” Neologisms like “atheist Muslim” only make sense if “Muslim,” like “Jew,” is rendered as an ethnic or cultural label, one among many. Of course, the Arabic word “Muslim” itself means “one who submits [to God]” and theologically to be Muslim, in truth, has certain requirements in terms of belief and practice. But these requirements are set by God and communicated through revelation. But from a secular perspective that denies the existence and/or relevance of God, “Muslim” can be deployed in whatever way convention dictates. By this standard, even “Muslim Jew” or “Muslim Christian” should be a linguistic and conceptual possibility.
Ultimately, “cultural anxiety” in the form of Islamophobia will continue to pressure Muslims to secularize and racialize their Muslim identity. As a community, we need to be well aware of this pressure so that we can recognize its signs and strive to resist it. By surrendering ourselves to a crippling fear of anti-Muslim bigotry, we risk losing our very souls. Rather, we need to channel that fear into positive practical and spiritual avenues, namely Islamically-informed activism as well as increased reliance on and fear of God Almighty.
To think of it differently, if there are extreme Islamophobes in the world who want to stamp out Muslims as a religious community, there are two methods to do so. One method would be to deport, intern, or kill Muslims through acts of bigotry or even genocide. The other method would be to create conditions that are conducive to the erosion and dissolution of Muslim faith, such that, eventually, being Muslim has nothing to do with the religious values and norms of Islam. We should ensure that, in our heightened concern for combating the first method, we do not forget to combat the second equally nefarious, equally destructive method as well.
Praveen Swami is an Indian journalist writing on the so called Islamic terrorism.
On the ground it is by now clear that most of the Muslims, nearly all, have nothing to do with terrorism. This is born out by the fact that the Islamopboes have tried all permutations and combinations for slapping the terrorism charges on Islam and failed.
(1) "All Muslims are terrorists," they said first. This was the most gross calumni against Muslims. Very soon it proved to be vacuous.
(2) "All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims", they said next. Then they realized that this charge can not be sustained.
We are still passing through the phase where there is massive ground level misunderstanding of confusing every Muslim for a terrorist or at the all terroris coming from the house of Islam. We have to be alert about it and we have to keep working to dispell this very powerful and damaging impression.
At the level of journalism Praveen Swami is doing the ground work for by providing coverage to the news from this sector, particularly India.
Here are his recent articles in the Indian Express on this topic.
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O our Lord take the love of this world and fear of death out of our hearts.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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