How Muslim Extremists Drive Islamophobia:
Muhammad ‘Abd al-Haqq
Islamophobia has many aspects, categories, faces , and manifestations. Though the bulk of it is manufactured in a top-down fashion from unscrupulous political leaders and other ideologues and in a ground-up grassroots fashion through Populist discourse, some of the anti-Muslim attitudes of our contemporary period find their causes in the behaviors, attitudes, and actions of Muslim Extremists. However we are far from the mainstream and alternative, liberal or conservative, non-Muslim media representations of Islam. Those that are all too simplistic, never mind their lack of accuracy when it comes to Islam.We identify “extremism” among Muslims and not Extremism in Islam. And what constitutes extremism we show to be in reality much more complex than the narrow definitions of the Western Narrative.
Extremism also cannot be defined using Western civilizational paradigms as the standard framework. In this regard we have identified an entire spectrum/continuum of ghuluwiyya among Muslims. This continuum runs the gamut from “liberals/progressive” Muslims, Neocon Muslims, Muslim Secularists, Muslim Marxists, Socialists, and Communists, various hizbi groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir and the Ikhwan, puritanism among Muslims, Suficism, and violent Extremist militant muharibun. We say hirabah because it is time that the word jihad is no longer linked with terrorism: jihadism is ghuluw, hirabah, and irrhab. However this first installment will not focus on them. We begin with a discussion of “Muslim feminism” and its implication in the wider perceptions of Muslims by non-Muslims. In this way we can identify 4 main ways in which Muslim drive Islamophobia.
1. Apathetic Muslims who either believe that Islamophobia is insignificant or the fight itself is an exercise in futility. This creates the perceptions among non-Muslims that Muslims simply are arrogant and do not care about how Islam and Muslims are perceived in the wider world.
2. Muslim turncoats who assist the Islamophobes in vilifying other Muslims under the pretense of “reform” and confronting Extremism. This confirms the preconceived negative attitudes towards Muslims that Islamophobes harbor
3. Muslim extremists of every stripe who confirm in the minds of many non-Muslims the supposed inextricable links between Islam, hatred, violence, terrorism, misogyny, backwardness, and barbarism, among other negatives.
4. The “left-wing” Muslim extremists who are usually non-violent that give the public perception that Islam is the “disorganized organized religion”. Because it is difficult for some to intellectually hold the truism that a religion can both lack centralized authority and still be uniform, orthodox, and unified, the diversity among Muslims is seen as evidence of Islam’s chaotic lack of coherence, or evidence of some sort of conspiratorial concerted effort by Muslims in disparate parts of the world to collectively engage in taqiyya in order to further exacerbate this confusion.
Muslim feminism falls into this category precisely because it gives the perception that women’s rights is Western in origin , that Western standards of women’s rights are the universal standard, and that Islam is patriarchal in nature. Yet Islam is no more patriarchal than it is Eastern, if you believe Allah alone is the Creator of Islam and the Author of its Holy Book; and if you understand that Islam is the universal, natural Deen for mankind, being neither particularly Eastern or Western , despite its resurgence in Arabia, since Islam was designed to be for all places and all times, and all humans.
The main issues surrounding this are how Muslim feminists simply reaffirm Western misperceptions about Islam and women. Mainly this refers to women who are prosecuted for being raped. The Hudood Ordinances of Pakistan have long been seen as inherently unfair to women, yet I rarely see the deconstruction of these laws from an Islamic perspective, showing that executing a woman simply because she cannot produce four witnesses to her rape is unIslamic. The way the images are portrayed, in imitation of how the Western media will present Muslim women, simply becomes an emotional appeal to condemn the inhumaneness of the practice. Failing to present these images coupled with an Islamic perspective that shows how unIslamic it is simply reaffirms the narrative of “oppressed Muslim women, oppressed by Islam”, instead of “oppressed Muslim women, oppressed despite Islam”.
Another aspect of this deals with challenging Islamic norms and principles under the guise of reform. Muslim feminists with no qualifications have taken upon themselves the authority of a mujtadid in order to decide, based on Western paradigms of course, just what exactly constitutes fairness and equality towards women, rejecting what is believed to be revealed by Allah as “patriarchal and misogynistic”.
In the following video we see a video blurb for an HBO documentary series entitled “Love Crimes Of Kabul “, which we will give a brief review of here, providing an authentic Islamic perspective in the process, insha’Allah.
This otherwise good documentary goes inside Badam Bagh, a women’s prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, presumably to tell the stories of three women who are being accused of committing “love crimes” or more commonly termed, “moral crimes”. Indeed the problem with this narrative begins here. There is the mythology in the West that secular societies don’t legislate morality. However it is self-evident that murder and polygamy are illegal in most Western societies, thus proving that all societies with a rule of law do indeed legislate morality. In fact condemnation of how another society legislates morality amounts to nothing more than culturalist criticism. In many instances it is arrogant bigotry.
Women are accused in these prisons of crimes that would be considered rebelliousness or “wilding out” in the West. Yet in Islam, premarital sex(fornication), adultery, and homosexuality are real, serious, crimes against both Allah and humanity. Muslims should not have to apologize for that and “Muslim feminists” should not have to contort Islam in order to be more palatable to Western norms. Indeed we find men abusing women in many different ways in many different parts of the Muslim world. After all this is largely a patriarchal world we live in. However, this does not excuse outright bid’ah and batil in the name of reform.
Furthermore, this idea of Muslim feminism simply makes the mistakes that other ghuluwiyya among Muslims make: severing the organic relationship between the multiple aspects of Islam that makes it both fixed and inherently flexible. Islam is thus both coherent and progressive. Yet, certain extremists hone in on khilafah and emphasize it to the point of ignoring ‘aqeeda and the methodology of the salaf. Similary, muharibun turn jihad into jihadism, ignoring not only ‘aqeeda, but fiqh in the process. And yet others twist ijtihad in order to satisfy their hawaa(whims and desires) in order to twist the religion into whatever they like.
In addition to severing the organic links of different aspects of Islam, extremists of every stripe twist these Islamic principles, concepts, and aspects, and inappropriately overemphasize certain aspects(khilafah, jihad) while de-emphasizing others. Feminism in its truest sense is deeply embedded in Islam to the point that Islamic feminism becomes a misnomer and a redundancy. Holding onto Qur’an and Sunnah will free the Muslim women and men from utilizing foreign, non-Muslim, Western ideologies and methods in order to effect the emancipation, equality, and recognition of Muslim women as partners, and not as servants, appendages, and toys for Muslim men.
The documentary follows three of such women prisoners accused of these moral crimes. The first is Kareema, a 20-year-old woman whose crime is having premarital sex with her fiancé, in violation of Islamic Law. What is expected of an Islamic State to do if this charge can be proven true? In fact Kareema, is now pregnant with her fiancé’s child. We usually hear of women guilty of zina being executed or stoned to death under the Taliban, as an inescapable hudud punishment of the Shari’ah, yet the punishment in Afghanistan is 15 years imprisonment. Prison. Which can be mitigated by a legal marriage while both are still in prison. So much for unmitigated Islamic cruelty. No one ever seems to mention the case by case basis of fiqh and fatawa and other sentencing and how they are linked to the application of qiyas and legitimate ijtihad. Islam is being presented as the problem without an intellectual analysis into Islamic jurisprudence, just superficial analysis, and an unhealthy emphasis on what Muslims do without investigating if the behavior is in fact supported by Islam as a religion.
The second woman is 23-year-old Aleema, who is accused of running away from her home. Does this really sound to you as if this is the full story behind why this woman was imprisoned? Simply for running away from home?
Aleema is charged with running away from home. After breaking her 4pm curfew she did not return to her parents’ house for fear of being beaten. Instead, she went to the house of another woman named Zia to seek refuge. Zia has a married son named Mohebullah, but the implication is that Aleema went to Zia’s house because she was having illicit relations with Mohebullah.
Again in this case, to reduce her sentence, Aleema must choose marry Mohebullah. Mohebullah, who is also in prison, says that, he must now marry Aleema out of honor, because they got each other arrested. Zia also agrees that Aleema must marry her son
Here we see a sort of power play between the two women. Zia sees it fit that Aleema marry her son to restore their family honor and Aleema questions whether marrying a man who is already married will make her happy. She also questions whether Mohebullah can support her financially. In the end, despite a prison counselor telling her that, “a bad husband is better than no husband,” she boldly decides to remain in jail for her sentencing period, rather than to marry Mohebullah and be released. She says that she can hold her head up high because she knows she did nothing wrong.
Here we can see the dynamics of culture interplay with the dictates of religion. To blame the aspects of this story which are indeed an injustice(curfew and being beaten for its violation, false accusations of illicit sexual relations, and forced marriage) on Islam, and conflate these issues with legitimate Islamic norms( marriage as a way to bypass the proposed punishment for zina and polygyny) as well as cultural practices(overemphasis on family honor) is overly simplistic.
The third and youngest woman of the three is Sabereh, who is accused of having premarital sex with a boy she is in love with. Again, the Shari’ah is clear on zina. But the case again appears to be a case of culturalism and unIslamic practice:
Sabereh, the youngest of the three, was eating a meal alone with a boy she fell in love with and someone told on them. Although she is accused of having premarital sex, she maintains that she is a virgin and after being examined by a doctor, her virginity is confirmed. However, this is not enough for the courts who then say that they found evidence of sodomy.
Sabereh’s father pleads with the court to acquit her and even pleads with the boy’s father to allow his son to marry her so that both will be released. She is sentenced to three years in jail after the boy’s father refuses to allow them to marry.
What could possibly be the purpose of a non-Muslim documentary delving into the lives of Muslim women?; especially one that makes unabashed usage of Orientalist stereotypes and tropes about Muslim women, as seen from a Western perspective? Simply put, this type of presentation drives Islamophobia because the recycling of these tropes, stereotypes, and myths confirms, in the minds of Islamophobes and those non-Muslims on the fence, that the problems are a problem with Islam itself.
It is undeniably that as Diana from MuslimahMediaWatch says that “As the documentary develops the stories of these women, and the viewer witnesses snaps of the court trials, what we know of as Shariah becomes severely distorted by a male-centered fiqh of the Islamic legal tradition. Furthermore, we see how cultural and societal injustices propagate the misuse of power among male elites in addition to wedging these women between a rock and a hard place, where neither option of freedom or imprisonment translates to complete autonomy as we know it.” This problem in Muslim societies cannot be denied or simply explained away, but let’s not give the impression that the problem is Islam and that feminism as opposed to Qur’an and Sunnah are the solution.
As an introduction to this video I think that an exchange between the interviewer and the interviewee is appropriate
Anchor: One blaringly obvious problem with the Hudood law was the need to present four witnesses in order to convict a rapist, failure to do so resulted in the arrest of the woman on charges of confession to adultery, that was the main issue.
Munawar Hasan: What is the problem in that?
Anchor: The problem is this sir, that according to the 2003 national commission status of women report 80 per cent women were forced to languish in jails because of inability to produce witnesses of their rape.
Munawar Hasan: The objective of Islam is to discourage such acts, no one can be shameless enough to commit such an act in the presence of four people. Making it impossible to prove such acts, therefore the whole idea is to discourage bringing such acts into public light. Discouraging it to the extent that the act is never quoted. If such a crime occurs and since there are no witnesses than both men and women are suppose to keep it under wraps and not discuss it in public.
Anchor: Sir, are you suggesting that a woman should stay silent after she is raped? That she should not report the crime?
Munawar Hasan: I am saying she should keep quite if she has no witnesses. If she has witnesses than she should present them.
The feminist narrative not only objects to this type of gross perversion of Shari’ah from only the perspective of the modern understanding of Human Rights, but presents the narrative of Ahl ul-Bidah as its method of reform. What is the method of Ahl ul Bid’ah? It is none other than reform and “reinterpretation” of Islam rather than the reform and education of Muslims. The mubtadiyya calling themselves Muslim feminists seem to be unaware that inability to present the authentic Islamic perspective and simply presenting sensationalistic narrative and images merely reinforces the western perception that Islam is not only a problem(read: threat) for the West, but a problem(read: obstacle towards “advancement”/”progress”) for Muslims as well. The question must also be asked, why, if the Islamophobes use Muslim majority countries guilty of rampant human rights and women’s rights abuses such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia as exemplars, do Muslim feminists also adopt this tactic of presenting aberrations as normative Islam?
The argument goes, a la Robert Spencer et al:
Islamic legal theorists have restricted the validity of a woman’s testimony even further by limiting it to, in the words of one Muslim legal manual, “cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales.” Otherwise only men can testify. And in cases of sexual misbehavior, four male witnesses are required… Consequently, it is almost impossible to prove rape in lands that follow the dictates of the Sharia. Men can commit rape with impunity: As long as they deny the charge and there are no witnesses, they will get off scot-free, because the victim’s testimony is inadmissible. Even worse, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she may end up incriminating herself. If the required male witnesses can’t be found, the victim’s charge of rape becomes an admission of adultery
So it is incumbent on Muslims to prove this falsehood wrong from an Islamic perspective, thereby showing just what is wrong with Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances. The claim that is preceded by the claim that four male witness are required in order for a woman to claim rape and that inability to produce these witness is evidence of the woman being guilty of zina is the claim a woman’s testimony is accepted only in financial transactions (as only by half of course(!), and rejected altogether in other cases, especially rape. The idea among liberal Muslims and non-Muslims who are not anti-Muslim per se, as well as among Islamophobes is that some ‘ulama are of the opinion that the Qur’an only permitted a woman’s testimony in cases related to financial transactions and should to be excluded in all other cases.
It is promulgated that this opinion was the opinion prominent in the writings of medieval jurists, and is clung onto by some “ultraconservative Muslims” of today, without clarifying that those who held those opinions held these opinions as minority opinions. This means that this opinion is neither normative in Mainstream Islam, Traditional or Conservative, Contemporary, Medieval, or Early/Formative. It also means that this is the minority opinion even of the “ultraconservative Muslims”(read: puritanical Muslims). The Islamic concept of Minority Opinions is never fully explained by either of these groups. Sure many jurists may have held certain opinions, but that neither makes certain opinions common, normative to Islam, or even common to the madhhab that the jurist belongs to. A common criticism of modern-day Ahl ul Bid’ah is that they cobble together the minority opinions of a whole range of scholars in order to formulate their theology and fiqh. Islamophobes are also guilty of hunting down minority opinions and representing them as normative Islam. Robert Spencer is famous for this.
As Jalal Abualrub notes, quoting a hadith:
When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet for prayer, a man attacked her and raped her. She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me.” And when a company of the emigrants came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me.” They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.
She said: “Yes, this is he.” Then they brought him to the Apostle of God. When [the Prophet] was about to pass sentence, the man who had [actually] assaulted her stood up and said: “Apostle of God, I am the man who did it to her.”
[The Prophet] said to her: “Go away, for God has forgiven you.” But he told the [innocent] man some good words, and to the [guilty] man who had raped her, he said: “Stone him to death.” [Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366]
Contrary to common understanding a woman’s testimony is accepted in cases of rape. In fact the Prophet Muhammad(saws) convicted a man based solely on one woman’s testimony. And a man was reported as stoned to death for adultery. How often do we hear of that?! Abualrub comments:
As for the woman mentioned in the narration, it is clear that no one asked her for four witnesses nor did anyone suspect her character, and her testimony alone was used as proof, and the innocent man who was wrongly accused was set free, while she was not punished even though she identified the wrong man, so how can the critics of Islam today claim that the Shari’ah itself says a woman is to be lashed for failing to bring forth four witnesses, when this woman in the narration not only did not do that but also identified the wrong man!?
This is evidence from the authentic Sunnah that being unable to find four male witness or any four witnesses to a rape is not actually required by Islam in order to prove rape. Inability to provide the requisite witnesses is also not cause to charge the woman with zina by necessity, but is cause rather to begin a process to prove whether a rape did or did not actually occur, simply because false accusations of rape result in the false accuser of rape being punishable by the punishment meant for the offender in Islam. This is where the law is abused by unscrupulous misogynists operating under the precepts of a patriarchal culture that see women as insignificant social actors at best, and, through a twisting of Islamic ideas, as the world’s greatest fitnah.