Islam and my politics

Content notes: Discussion of Orlando shooting, LGBTQ+ violence and discrimination, Islamaphobia.

Today is the eighth day of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan has always been an important, the most important, month (Islamic calendar month) for me as a Muslim. It provides a time for me to really reflect on my faith more than I do in day to day life and a chance for me to consider the type of person I am and want to be: my goals and aims. In Ramadan I tend to pray more, read more Quran and try my best (when I remember) to be kinder, softer, more grateful and more forgiving.

In this first week of Ramadan I also felt the time was right to finally write a piece here on how Islam informs my politics. I wanted, in fact, to remove the ‘informs’ and shed a little light on how Islam is my politics. I have shied away from this in the past perhaps because there are too many audiences to please and because this is something very personal. In that way this is important for me on an individual level, but in a time and place where Islam is so often seen as the Dangerous, Extreme and Deadly it felt important for me to share. At a time when Islam is usefully positioned as the Backward and Illiberal Other, it felt important to contribute to the attempts to deconstruct monolithic ideas of Islam and Muslims.

However, before I got around to writing this, this weekend the deadliest mass shooting in America saw 50 LGBTQ+ people – mainly latinx people of colour – killed by a gunman with apparent affiliations to ISIS. Whilst I was still processing the news something incredible began to quickly happen – an outpouring of messages from LGBTQ+ groups and people against Islamaphobia. The strength and poignancy of those messages, from people whose very humanity was under attack at that moment, touched me deeply. It touched me in what it said about solidarity and what it said about oppression, and it touched me because it was desperately brave. But what most touched me was the messages from LGBTQ+ Muslims. Those who were being asked to treat two aspects of their identities as in opposition, those who were discriminated against simultaneously and on multiple levels. I decided with new conviction that I had to write this post because if those attacked could urge anti-Islamaphobia, I wanted to urge compassion.

Other people have already and will this week write about how violence and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people is not a non-white or Islam-specific phenomenon. They will write about how it is state-sanctioned in the West, how it is codified, how it is historic and permeates our society. Others are better placed to write about that and I urge us to engage with what they say, and to care about violence against LGBTQ+ people – especially those of colour – before they are dead; I urge us to care at all moments of their lives. It is important also to recognise this deliberate and continuous systematic violence in the West to understand that it is reductive and uncritical to pose Muslims as the Illiberal Other. The structures of our societies of all types uphold violence towards LGBTQ+ people. We must not allow ourselves to be caught up by straightforward Islamaphobia which  distracts from critical evaluation of our own societies and our own place in upholding systems of violence therein.

Further, the flipside of Islamaphobia – and perhaps the side that has had the most impact on me in terms of what I write here and what I discuss – is that, in my opinion, it contributes to the silencing of discussion and debate within Muslim ‘communities’. When Islam is under such scrutiny and condemnation it is more natural to want to defend it than it is to be critical of it. There are many discussions to be had amongst Muslims but with the constant threat that such discussions will be hijacked by Islamaphobes they are difficult to have. Yet such discussions are not always a choice. There are many times, and many Muslims, for whom such discussions are bound up with our humanity and thus they cannot be avoided.

One such discussion comes on the back of the Orlando shooting. Whilst I urge us not to use Islamaphobia to pretend the West is not violent towards LGBTQ+ people, I also want to be able to say that there are Muslims who are homophobic and that we should talk about this without conflating many other things. Of course, other people already have and are having those conversations, groups for LGBTQ+ Muslims have born the brunt and LGBTQ+ Muslims have existed at the intersection and with the pain. But we cannot leave it only to them to have these conversations – just as we cannot only care about LGBTQ+ people once they are dead. All people (Muslim and not) – and especially those not facing the violence – need to think and act against such violence.

When it comes to Muslims we need to think in nuanced ways. If there can be no justification for violence or persecution in Islam there can be no justification of homophobia. Islam is radically opposed to oppression therefore we must take care not to oppress. But beyond theology we also need to think critically about identities and intersections. Others are better placed and more informed than I, but for one example we need to consider the role of masculinity and the way that some Muslim men – like many non-Muslim men – might not being able to fit hegemonic ideals of masculinity and subsequently become determinedly complicit in upholding hetero-patriarchy as a form of masculine assertion. We need to consider that different Muslim communities and cultures act and interact differently and that might destabilise certainties we have about gender and gender relations. Most importantly we cannot act as if LGBTQ+ issues are separate and distinct from Islam, to do so erases the existence of some Muslim people. There has to be critical consideration about not only how we react to a mass shooting like Orlando, but how we treat the LGBTQ+ people – young and old, out and not out – in our own communities. We need to consider Islam as both theology and practice.

For me, when I say Islam is my politics I mean that its values and ideals are what inform the way I view society and what shape the goals I pursue therein. Islam emphasises radical egalitarianism with no person being superior based on race, age, wealth, gender or position – worth instead is measured spiritually, in God’s eyes, and we cannot therefore judge or discriminate against one another. Islam condemns oppressors and urges us to resist oppression – the story of the Pharonic oppression of the Israelites is a Quaranic classic. But resistance of oppressors extends even to the recognition that we ourselves can be oppressive. With a massive emphasis on justice, the Quran reminds that we must enact it even when it is against ourselves. We must treat people rightly even if it undermines a privileged position or status we benefit from. Acting rightly is socially-situated in Islam, we can only be Muslims by treating others in an Islamic way; by being kind, open, charitable, neighbourly and by standing up against all forms of oppression against all people. Islam subsequently informs my feminism, my views on social justice, on equality, on decentering the epistemologies so valued in the West, on rejecting the means of the oppressor and on being loving.

But moreover, Islam values humility. Then let us be open to learning and to listening – to accepting that we may not know it all yet and that there may be things we have not considered. And may Islam continue to inform my politics.

“Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor.” – Quran 4:135

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