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One Islam Many Muslim Worlds

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In the Oxford Handbook: Islam and Politics, Khaled Abou El Fadl identified conflicting views of two Arab states on the topic of revolution. The first view comes from Saudi Arabia citing the phenomenon to be un-Islamic, more so goes against the principles of Shari’a, Islamic Law. This judgement was expounded by the fact that the said law prohibits demonstration even if the ruling party exhibits unjust ways and methods of governing the state. Egypt, on the other hand, views revolution against injustice as a religious and moral obligation incumbent upon all Muslims. This Arab state from the African continent upholds standing up and fighting against oppression and injustice of all sorts.

The two varying views are a good evidence that despite adherence to the same Islamic reference, there can still be formulation of different interpretations of the teachings. This gives light to the theory of Baker in his book, One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds, that each of us will have a meaningful contribution to Islamic renewal despite our different responses to events. This goes to show that Islam embraces pluralism and should not be seen in a monolithic approach. Western approach on Islamic accounts are of different positions.

There are the absolutist, relativist, ethnocentric, and most especially humanistic. According to Baker, the absolutist and ethnocentric views are arrogant in such a way that there is only one standard truth. In the eyes of an ethnocentric, no other truth is valid except for their superior truth. In relativist approach, there is an understanding of differing experiences and one’s truth is relative to his or her place and time in history. Dialogues and opposing arguments are acceptable, however, no necessary settlement is expected. It somehow gives credit to diversity but does not require coexistence. Humanistic approach, on the other hand, encourages both parties to appreciate plurality and reach a level of understanding that encourages reconciliation and harmony. The aforementioned positions reminded me of a Gap advertisement that has been going around recently. The promotional material shows a hijabi little girl alongside children from other backgrounds. For the American population, this signifies normalization of diverse representation in the media. In fact, the ad was seen as a breakthrough in embracing diversity and countering racism. The ad is currently made available in two countries, the USA and the UK. However, In France, although the ad has not been released yet in their country, it had already stirred up controversy. The advertisement was seen as regressive, misogynistic, and an abuse to their value of freedom and justice – which the Europeans give utmost importance. It led to some movements and politicians urging the masses to boycott the brand. The French government’s concern for the Muslim women’s clothing stems from the opinion that a head covering is patriarchal and sexist.

On the other hand, Sam Cherribi, in his article Islamic Politics in Europe in the Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics, explained that the resistance of European states against any Islamic ideologies has three factors. The first factor is the fear of losing European national identity as the European Union expands. Second, Islam becomes a top security issue due to the rise of global militant political Islam and terrorism. Thirdly, Europeans discovered that they are unable and are inexperienced in dealing with the new rise of religious pluralism. The first and the last factors posed a threat to Europe being a massive geographical entity that shares a common religion: Christianity. As a result, introduction of a new ideology, Islam, that touches all aspects of human existence becomes a cause of concern to their lack of cohesive political identity. Presently, they are unified by their singular currency, euro, however, the emerging identification of Islam as an enemy in the preservation of their identity also starts to serve as another unifying ingredient that binds other European states.

For almost 40 years, Turkey has been attempting to be part of the European Union. Their possible inclusion becomes a source of tension among member states. If it happens, it will be viewed as legitimization of Muslimization of Europe, and that is not something that Europeans can accept, considering their efforts to revive and preserve their identity. In 1989, during the presidency of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Kosovo and its Muslim communities suffered ethnic disintegration. Due to the lack of unified defense identity of the Europeans, some movements called on the assistance of Americans and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to put a stop to Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing. This led to airstrikes in Serbia and Kosovo which urged hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring European countries to seek protection. Around 6,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred despite being under the protection of the Dutch-United Nations.

For some, this was like a déjà vu of Dutch’s betrayal when the Jews sought refuge in Holland in the Second World War. The massacre was even tagged by others as the worst genocide in Europe after Holocaust. In 1996, the Dutch government requested the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) to conduct a research into the events that transpired pre-, during, and post-Srebrenica massacre. In 2002, the NIOD report was released and the findings urged former Dutch Prime Minister Kok to announce that they will bear full responsibility for the massacre, and he and his cabinet resigned thereafter. Currently, some activists and movements pose a question on the reparation of Dutch government to Srebrenica massacre victims – considering the high regard Europeans put in upholding justice and freedom. Unfortunately, in a press release dated 11 July 2015 by Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen, he stated: “Two decades after the world averted its gaze from the worst crime to be committed on European soil since 1945, the families of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide are still awaiting justice,”

Islam in North America, Abdullah Al-Arian (Oxford Handbook: Islam and Politics)

One of the first groups of Muslims who came to America originated from West Africa. Most of them, if not all, were subject to slavery. In the recent years, lives of those Muslim slaves were shared to a wider audience through books and films. There is Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, an eighteenth-century slave whose remarkable journey allowed him to eventually return to his home along the Gambia River in West Africa, and `Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima Sora, an African prince enslaved in the Americas during the early nineteenth century and was freed only after the intervention of President John Quincy Adams. Through the documentations, early Muslim slaves were proven to be educated and/or of respectable background. They even had the capacity to read and write in Arabic and exhibited strong Islamic identity and knowledge of the Qur’an.

However, in the years to come, most of them started to suppress their practice of faith due to fear of being caught and penalized; hence, Islamic practices were not fully passed on to the succeeding generations. Not long after, African Americans faced more challenges in terms of economic growth. They were not granted the same opportunities due to institutionalized discrimination brought about by National Origins Act that severely restricted immigration from non-white countries. African Americans then sought refuge in civil rights movements where Islam played a significant role as a political, cultural and spiritual force. Thus, during mid- 20th century, some African Americans made an effort to rediscover Muslim heritage, and finding in it a source of empowerment. As a result, the presence of Islamic communities in North America exhibited rich history through the lives of Muslim converts and activists, like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

In 1996, as stated in an article by the American Muslim Voice Foundation, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, also known as the Secret Evidence Act, established a new court charged only with hearing cases in which the government seeks to deport aliens accused of engaging in terrorist activity based on secret evidence submitted in the form of classified information. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act expanded the secret evidence court so that secret evidence could be more easily used to deport even lawful permanent residents as terrorists. It also included provisions allowing the government to use secret evidence to deny bond to all detained non-citizens and to deny various discretionary immigration benefits such as asylum to all non-citizens, including those not accused of being terrorists. The Secret Evidence Act affected Muslims and Arabs. Thus, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) met with the then presidential candidate, George Bush, to discuss the secret evidence act, mainly enforced against Muslims and Arabs. Bush expressed sympathy which led ISNA to endorse him in the presidential race. A Pakistani-American family even donated $1 million in the campaign thinking that Muslim Americans will finally have a lobbyist in the congress. When Bush eventually won the 2001 elections, Muslim Americans gained hope for the repeal of the Secret Evidence Act. However, after the 9/11 attack, the presence of Muslims posed a security threat to the Western world. The voice of Muslim Americans was once again disregarded. Muslim movements developed bitter feelings over how former President Bush conducted the war on terror. As a result, last Sept 6, 2004, ISNA ended their meeting with a plea to Muslim Americans to vote but without endorsing any candidate.

Presently, prominent Muslim American activists, like Sheikh Omar Suleiman, Linda Sarsour, Dalia Mogahed among others, use their platform to raise public awareness on certain issues (i. e. healthcare, immigration) that concerns not only Muslims, but also other minorities. This demonstrates the willingness of American Muslims in openly engaging with other civil rights groups to urge policy makers to be open to idea of having a Muslim voice in the drafting of any policy. Overall, there are two points that really resonated in me while reading the books.

Firstly, growing up, it never occurred to me that Islam, a simple religion I call my security blanket and my reference, can be a threat to some stable Western countries. It amazes me that some states excessively use their energy and funds, that would have been far more beneficial to citizens (i. e. improvement of healthcare, better educational system, better social welfare policies), to advance their agenda to topple down the Islamic world. Lastly, that as Muslim Filipinos faced with various socio-political issues, we must take Muslim Americans as a model in advancing their causes because they are not hindered by their cultural affiliation. There is only one Muslim American community that strives to be heard.

Prominent Muslim activists do not exclusively identify themselves American Arabs nor American South Asians, they are representing one Muslim voice that no ethnic lines can stop them from forwarding their aim to successfully integrate to the society.

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