Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Not encouraging:
As Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan government contends with a marriage of convenience between the two largest opposition parties, pressure is mounting on it to show it can defend the interests of Malay-Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of voters.

Enter a new initiative to crack down on insults against Islam. On March 7, the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), the country’s most powerful Islamic affairs agency, set up a special unit to police insults against Islam on social media and other platforms.

Each complaint would be scrutinised and legitimate ones reported to the police or the communications regulator, said Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh, who is overseeing the unit.

In just a week, the complaints body received 10,000 reports and as of Wednesday, it had 13,498 reports.

In Mahathir’s new Malaysia, a perfect storm for Pakatan Harapan?

The agency’s creation came soon after a 22-year-old Malaysian, whose details were withheld by the authorities, was given an unprecedented sentence of 10 years for posting content online that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, a decision that lawyers said went against the rule of law.

And police are investigating the organisers of the International Women’s Day March under the colonial-era Sedition Act, on the back of public accusations that the presence of LGBT activists at a Women’s Day parade on March 9 glorified behaviour not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, same-sex relations are banned, and sedition laws have been used against those who express dissent or excite disaffection against state institutions.

Observers such as Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs have pointed out the irony of these developments. Pakatan Harapan, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, won office on promises of legal reform and improved human rights for all Malaysians.
But it is now moving to stem the growing appeal of an alliance between former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – the former championing Malay rights and the latter milking pro-Muslim sentiments.
Umno-PAS’ attractiveness to voters has been heightened by the government’s struggle to realise its election pledges of higher salaries and a lower cost of living.

“The Malay parties in Pakatan Harapan have to pander to the conservatives by regressing to religio-racial supremacy in order to maintain a foothold in the Malay vote bank, especially in view of their successive crushing defeats in recent by-elections,” Oh said.

Political economist Terence Gomez, along with prominent local activists, also criticised this political “trend” of political parties capitalising on perceived insults to religion to gain popularity.

“In the application of laws prohibiting insulting religion, we must strive for a rational and liberal balance with the protection of the freedom of expression while being mindful of the religious sensitivities of our multi-religious communities. Hence open mindedness and moderation should be the norm in the interpretation and application of the existing laws,” the group said.

It added that criticising issues such as child marriage or female circumcision – permitted under Malaysia’s sharia laws – was “perfectly defensible”.

Fuziah said the complaints received by the unit regarded insults to Islam and the Prophet.

“One touches on insulting the Agong,” she said, referring to Malaysia’s ruler and head of state. She did not comment on whether any police reports had been filed.

Where does Malaysia stand on gay rights? Nobody knows

But so far only 28 links had been sent to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is supposed to take them down. Another 15 complaints were being investigated, Fuziah said.

The commission told the South China Morning Post it had not received any reports as of Wednesday, but would “provide assistance to Jakim as required”.

When the new Jakim unit was launched, Fuziah told local media she was aware some insults online were published by those with fake accounts. Some were also “unhealthy retaliations”, she said, sparked by comments by opposition politicians against non-Muslims.

Source: Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Finding a Place in Women’s Mosques

Of interest:

These are heady times for Kahina Bahloul, organizer of a women’s mosque in France, a country that is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe. Practical considerations dominate the spiritual — a search for an affordable location, a flurry of radio and television interviews marking the rise of a vanguard of women imams leading pop-up mosques from Berlin to Berkeley, Calif.

Ms. Bahloul, 39, who was trained as a lawyer in Algeria, said she stopped attending formal prayer services in Paris about three years ago because “I didn’t feel respected.”

She said she was taken aback by mosques that isolated women, steering them to back doors and relegating the worshipers to basements or seats hidden behind screens. She gave up after one mosque directed the women to pray in a nearby garage.

“I felt excluded by the mosques,” said Ms. Bahloul, who is earning a doctorate in Islamic studies from France’s École Pratique des Hautes Études and intends to be one of two imams leading prayers at the mosque. “I felt excluded by my community — and a lot of other women felt the same way.”

Together with Faker Korchane, 40, a high school philosophy teacher and a freelance journalist, she is developing the Fatima Mosque while searching for rental space in the Paris region. Their concept is a liberal mosque that will host weekly prayers led alternately by a female and male imam with worshipers of both sexes separated on either side of the same prayer hall.

Ms. Bahloul is building on an evolving tradition of women imams with history dating from the 19th century in China among the Hui Muslims. There, women lead mosques exclusively for women. But in the last three years, women imams elsewhere have begun to organize women’s mosques with varying styles in Denmark, Germany, Canada and the United States.

In 2016, the Mariam mosque opened in central Copenhagen, with the call to prayer sung by women. A year later, Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer and activist, founded the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin. To great fanfare and speeches, a women’s mosque started in Berkeley, Calif., in 2017 at Starr King School for the Ministry, a graduate school and Unitarian Universalist seminary.

Rabi’a Keeble, a Muslim convert and graduate of that seminary, founded the Berkeley mosque, Qal’bu Maryam. But she quickly faced challenges. It was not easy to attract Muslim women, who were wary of the organizers, she said.

“You assume there must be other like-minded people all over the place,” Ms. Keeble said. “What woman wants to continue to sit behind, walk behind, listen to men interpret scripture to their benefit? There must be a bunch of women waiting for someone to step up and kick those doors down. Well, that’s just not true.”

The Berkeley mosque’s location was always tenuous. After a year occupying free space, the group moved to a temporary home, she said, and recently found new quarters at First Congregational Church of Oakland.

Real estate is the critical issue that determines the strength of reform mosques. In 2012, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed opened a mosque in Paris designed to be inclusive to women and welcoming to homosexual Muslims. Faced with insults and some hostility, Mr. Zahed said members preferred to be discreet, moving locations every three months to avoid being targeted. The mosque closed after three years, and Mr. Zahed has since resettled in Marseille in the south of France to run an institute to train reform imams.

“We had threats and people identified the places,” Mr. Zahed said of the Paris mosque. “Then owners didn’t want us to stay any longer. They were very happy to have us in the beginning, but they had so much political pressure that they wanted us to leave. It was always like this.”

Ms. Bahloul has not faced that kind of pressure for the Fatima Mosque, a concept she has openly promoted since January with a series of television interviews in France that have provoked hundreds of comments. She has also drawn coverage in Brazil, Italy and Canada, and in Northern Africa in Morocco, which characterized her concept as revolutionary.

“Among Muslims there are two reactions,” she said. “Most are very favorable — ‘finally a breath of fresh air. We have been waiting for this for a long time.’ There are others who are insulting and accuse us of trying to change the real Islam. But what is real Islam? Those critics have a very simple approach and have a superficial understanding of Islam.”

Ms. Bahloul’s views are shaped by her eclectic background, divided between France and Algeria, where she grew up in northern Kabylia, the child of an Algerian father and French mother. Her maternal grandmother was a Polish Jew and her grandfather French Catholic.

“Since I was young, I have always posed questions,” Ms. Bahloul said. “What really struck me was the evolution of the practice of Islam of my paternal grandparents, who were very traditional, cultural and spiritual. And after that I watched the spread of the conservative Salafist movement and the first veils worn by women in the 1990s.”

For now the organizers are preoccupied with practical concerns — renting a location, eventually organizing a crowdfunding campaign, reaching out to city officials who could aid in the search for space for Friday prayers and community meetings.

In the meantime, Ms. Bahloul teaches about Islam online through her association, Parle-moi d’Islam, with lectures on how to read the Quran or prosaic themes such as: “Does the Quran say to hit wives?”

Mr. Korchane, the co-founder, also says they must work to reach another pivotal group. He wants to create special videos to attract young Muslims, who he says sometimes lack deep knowledge of Islam. “They think, for example,” he said, “that eating halal or wearing a veil are part of the pillars of Islam.”

Source: Finding a Place in Women’s MosquesOrganizers of reform mosques are building on an evolving tradition of women imams that dates back centuries. But some Muslim women remain wary.

Switzerland: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Interesting trend and distinction between Islam the faith and Muslims the people:

Every two years, Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office compiles a survey of attitudes towards people of different race, religion and nationality. The survey entitled: living together in Switzerland, asks a wide range of questions covering attitudes held towards different people and experiences associated with those differences.

More than 3,000 permanent residents of Switzerland between the ages of 15 and 88, selected at random across Switzerland’s main regions, were asked a series of questions. Those questioned included Swiss citizens and foreign nationals.

One group of questions, which looks at attitudes towards muslims, shows a large difference between how the population views the faith compared to it’s followers. In 2018, 29% said they mistrusted Islam, while 11% said they held a negative view of its followers.

The survey also looked at attitudes towards the jewish community. 9% said they held a negative view of this group. There was no separate question on attitudes towards the jewish faith.

Negativity towards muslims in Switzerland has declined since 2016. In 2016, 14% said they held a negative view of them. In 2018, the figure was 11%.

On the other hand the percentage declaring negativity towards the jewish community increased from 8% in 2016 to 9% in 2018.

In line with these trends, support for negative stereotypes of jewish people rose between 2016 and 2018 while it fell for muslims. The percentage saying the negative stereotype of muslim people, defined as fanaticism, aggressivity, oppression of women and non-respect of human rights, applied strongly and systematically fell from 16.8% to 13.7%, while the percentage saying the stereotype of jewish people, defined as greed, being too exclusive, thirst for power and political radicality, applied strongly and systematically rose from 11.9% to 12.5% – the report cautions against reading too much into the stereotype figures because of the limited number of characteristics included and the high percentage of respondents not answering the question.

Religious discrimination was ranked the fifth most frequent form of discrimination in Switzerland. First was discrimination based on nationality. 58% said they’d experienced this. Next were language or accent (27%), gender (19%), professional status (18%) and religion (15%). Skin colour (15%), socio-economic group (14%), age (13%), political opinion (12%) and ethnicity (11%) completed the top ten.

Source: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

Not surprising:

More than a third of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate.

The organisation’s annual “State of Hate” report, which will be launched on Monday, argues that anti-Muslim prejudice has replaced immigration as the key driver of the growth of the far right.

In polling conducted by the group in July last year, 35% of people thought Islam was generally a threat to the British way of life, compared with 30% who thought it was compatible. Forty-nine per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election thought it was generally incompatible, and 22% of Labour voters agreed.

Nearly a third (32%) said they thought there were “no-go areas” in Britain where sharia law dominated and non-Muslims could not enter. Almost half of Conservative voters (47%) and those who voted to leave the EU (49%) believed this was true.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:35:21/embed.html

The report said that while polling showed that attitudes towards Muslims in Britain had improved between 2011 and 2016, the terror attacks in the UK in 2017 had had a negative impact on perceptions.

In a separate poll of more than 5,000 people in August 2018, 30% said they would support a campaign set up by local residents to stop proposals to build a mosque near where they live. Twenty-one per cent say they would still support the campaign if either side became violent, because the matter was so serious.

Among the issues in the report is that of leftwing antisemitism. Hope not Hate said that while extreme antisemitism and Holocaust denial were less common, there were many examples of “conspiratorial” antisemitism and the use of antisemitic tropes, “especially in relation to supposed Jewish power”.

The report points to research that found an increase in antisemitic Google searches in the UK. It found that 5% of UK adults did not believe the Holocaust happened and 8% said the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:36:44/embed.html

The report’s authors said a large group was involved in “denying a problem exists and dismissing the issue as a rightwing and Zionist smear”. It concluded that the Labour party was still not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.

“The family history of so many members of the British Jewish community includes first-hand experience of persecution. Many people in the Jewish community therefore identify with a sense of the precariousness of their safety, where material security and educational attainment are not seen as guarantors of security and safety,” it said.

“The inability of the Labour party leadership to understand and acknowledge this experience is particularly chilling when the Labour party and the left in general hold values of equality and antiracism as core to their identity.”

The report also found that while the numbers arrested for terror-related offences in 2018 was down on the previous year, there was a growing threat of far-right terrorism, which came both from organised groups such as National Action and from lone actors who are radicalised over the internet.

The group warned that there could also be a rise in support for Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajiroun following the release of one of its founders, Anjem Choudary, from prison.

“Our latest polling also reveals a disturbing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and discourse running through society, with a third of people saying they believe there are Muslim-run no-go zones, and rising antisemitism on the left, which we have exposed in a new investigation,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope not Hate.

“Meanwhile, while the banned terror group National Action has finally been destroyed by the authorities, there is a growing threat of violence from the younger neo-Nazis emerging in their wake. There are justified concerns that the police response to these rising threats, especially against MPs, has fallen short. We believe a very real threat remains from terrorism carried out by lone actors, too, radicalised over the internet.

“Added to this febrile mix is the release of Anjem Choudary and many of his network’s leading figures, likely to regalvanise their supporters and provide yet another seedbed for the far right to grow their support, too. We cannot wait for a traditional, united, far-right umbrella organisation to emerge before we act. We need to start connecting the dots now.”

Source: Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

The Economist: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

Worth reading and thoughtful exploration of the different tendencies and developments:

People are of two types in relation to you,” Imam Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and one of his first caliphs, or successors, is reputed to have said. “Either your brother in Islam, or your brother in humanity.” The Shia community of Mahfil Ali in north London tries to turn word into deed. Women often open services with a prayer. Sermons are in English. For the past decade the community has gone to the local church on Christmas Eve to attend midnight mass. Most ambitiously, it is turning its two-hut mosque into a £20m ($26m) Salaam (Peace) centre, complete with sports facilities, a restaurant, a theatre and a public library. There is talk of making a prayer space for Christians and Jews. “We want to nurture the community that nurtured us,” says a local leader.

Mosques in the West have come a long way since migrant workers rolled out plastic mats in their back rooms. A new generation of cathedral mosques has brought Islam out of Muslim districts into the public arena. Instead of traditional structures with inward-looking courtyards, their architects now design wide staircases that connect to the street. Sports facilities draw in younger Muslims who may have lost interest in the faith, as well as non-Muslims. The Islamic Centre of Greater Cincinnati, spread over 18 acres (seven hectares), is one of many in America that feels more like a country club than a mosque. Christian and Jewish teams compete in its basketball league.

Foreign organisations, Western governments and jihadists have all sought to speak for and mould Islam in the West, but the more established the faith becomes there, the less truck it wants with any of them. Of the three generations that have grown up since Muslims arrived in the West in the 20th century, the third is the most stridently opposed to government interference, be it foreign or Western, and to jihadist propaganda. As time passes, the old ties loosen. In most of the West, unlike in Muslim countries, no licence is currently needed to become an imam. Instead of a faith shaped from outside, millennial Muslims are creating something unprecedented: a do-it-yourself Islam.

That makes the religion frustratingly messy, but also diverse, dynamic and fluid. It is fragmenting into myriad interpretations, permutations and sects. Each by itself might be small, but collectively they are acquiring a critical mass that is pushing the faith’s boundaries. Western Islam covers the full spectrum of Islamic traditions, from the most conservative to the sort that considers Islam a culture but no longer a faith, and everything in between.

The four schools of Western Islam

To outsiders, the Salafist strand of the faith looks deeply traditional and unwelcoming. Its members wear Islamic dress and send their children to segregated Muslim schools. Boys in white tunics shiver in the cold. Teachers focus on scripture. But the Salafists insist that much of what they believe chimes with a Western approach to the faith. “Its appeal is like that of Protestant reformation in Christianity,” says Yasir Qadhi, America’s best-known preacher, who studied with Salafist masters. “It gives the individual direct connection to the text without going through a cleric or priest. It’s intellectually empowering.”

Though German officials, among others, have cut off dialogue, a new generation of Salafists is experimenting with greater openness. Searching for allies to stem secularism’s advance, Salafist imams engage in interfaith dialogue with like-minded conservatives of other faiths. The rapid influx of converts, too, has forced them to find ways to deal with their non-Muslim relatives. For role models, preachers look to the first Muslims in Mecca 1,400 years ago. They were also converts but kept their ties with their pagan families. And when they were persecuted, they embarked on the first hijra, or migration, and found refuge with the Christian rulers of Abyssinia. From his home in Memphis, Tennessee, Mr Qadhi plans to launch a new Islamic seminary later this year, staffed exclusively by Western lecturers. The teaching there, he says, will be “post-Salafist”, concentrating on the essentials. “While old-school Salafists are arguing over the minutiae of Islamic law, their children are debating whether or not God even exists,” he adds.

Western Islam is fragmenting into myriad interpretations

The second strand of the faith, political Islam, has long advocated engagement with non-Muslim society, not least to defend the interests of the umma, or Muslim community. Its main organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, began as an armed anti-colonial movement in the Middle East. But chased into exile, its leaders have established a host of offshoots which profess loyalty to the West and praise its democratic systems (to the horror of the Muslim rulers they fled). It can be highly pragmatic. At a class at the Institut Européen des Sciences Humaines in Paris, Europe’s largest Muslim college and a bastion of Brotherhood orthodoxy, a female lecturer emphasises the flexibility of the sharia, or Islamic law, and its guiding principle of maslaha, or communal interest.

Another of the Brotherhood’s institutions, the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, is rewriting orthodox precepts. Its jurists have approved mortgages, despite the Islamic prohibition on interest. They have ruled that female converts to Islam can keep their non-Muslim husbands. And some increasingly turn a blind eye to ways of life hitherto deemed deviant. “I’m not God. It’s his business. I don’t interfere,” says Taha Sabri, the imam of an Islamist mosque in Berlin.

If the Brotherhood gives Islam a Western hue, liberals, the third strand, give their Western lifestyles an Islamic one. For more than a generation, Bassam Tibi, a devout academic of Syrian origin at Göttingen university in Germany, has campaigned for “euro-Islam”, which by his definition is rooted in the principles of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and French Revolution. The faith, he says, has to adapt to its new environment, just as it did when it spread elsewhere in the world. “Africans made an African Islam and Indonesians made an Indonesian one,” he notes. “Islam is flexible and can be European.”

A few congregations of women-led mosques have surfaced in the West beyond the ivory towers of academia. Some are women-only, others mixed. Weekly prayers are often conducted on Sundays for members unable to leave work on Fridays. In 2008 Rabya Mueller, a former Catholic nun who converted to Islam, formed the Islamic Liberal Bund, modelled closely on liberal Judaism, and has begun leading prayers. Together with Lamya Kaddor, a German woman with a Syrian background, she is replacing Islam’s patriarchal baggage with gender equality and a commitment to gay rights. Much of their work, she says, involves marrying Muslims and non-Muslims of either gender. On Twitter, @queermuslims advertises prayer meetings for homosexual adherents of the faith. A training centre for gay imams has opened in France.

At the far end of the spectrum, a fourth strand wants to dispense with the religion altogether. In November six German academics, including one non-Muslim, formed the Secular Islam Initiative to promote “a folkloric relationship to Islam”, according to one of its founders, Hamed Abdel-Samad, the son of an Egyptian imam and author of a critical biography of the Prophet Muhammad. The organisation is still at the fledgling stage, but it may express the views of a surprising number of Muslims born in the West. According to a German government survey, only 20% of the country’s Muslims belong to a religious organisation. Many of the rest lead secular lives.

The number of lapsed Muslims in France is probably even higher than in Germany, particularly among descendants of north Africa’s Berbers, many of whom have long viewed Islam as a figleaf for Arabisation. Half the men of Algerian origin in France marry outside the faith, and 60% of those of Algerian parentage say they have no religious affiliation. In America the Pew Research Centre estimates that 23% of Muslims no longer identify with the faith. “We’re facing the same problem of assimilation as the Jews,” says an imam in Dearborn, Michigan.

Thinking the unthinkable

Mosques seeking to rejuvenate their flock are having to adapt to changing sexual practices, too. Half of America’s Muslim students, male and female, admit to having had premarital sex, according to a study in 2014. “When I began teaching in 2003, no girl would admit to having a boyfriend,” says Ms Kaddor, who until recently taught religious studies for Muslims in a Rhineland school. “Now, some openly say they’re bisexual.” Muslim dating apps abound. “Find a beautiful Arab or Muslim girl on muzmatch,” promises one that claims a million users, complete with an optional chaperone feature.

Women are also increasingly demanding a say, not least because they are now typically better educated than men. The number of women on mosque boards is still small but growing, even in orthodox communities. Inside the prayer hall, women, originally confined to the gallery, are moving to the back of the ground floor and sometimes down the sides. In many Black American mosques men and women share the same hall. Prejudice against homosexuality remains strong but is retreating. Among British Muslims over 65, 76% want to ban the practice; for those aged 18-24, the proportion is 40%.

Adherents of all four strands often change allegiance. Mr Abdel-Samad was briefly a Muslim Brother before converting to secularism. Many Salafist preachers were nominal Christians who trod the path in reverse. Such cross-fertilisation does not always breed understanding. Imams deviating from orthodoxy risk expulsion from their mosques. Abdel Adhim Kamouss, a Salafist preacher in Berlin, has been ousted from two mosques for asserting that the Prophet did not condemn homosexuality or shaking hands with women. Mr Kamouss is one of several people interviewed for this report to receive a fatwa sentencing him to death for apostasy. In the suburbs of some British cities Muslim shopkeepers are forced to close before Friday prayers. And women can still become victims of honour crimes in conservative enclaves such as Dewsbury in northern England.

Optimists say such violence is a sign of desperation. In France the last known honour crime was committed two decades ago. Across the West Muslims turn out to vote in greater numbers than the rest of the population and increasingly interact with non-Muslims. For many of the younger ones, divisions of sect, ethnicity and religious observance are less and less relevant. In short, given a range of choices, Muslims in the West increasingly see Islam more as a matter of personal choice than a creed guided by government, whether at home or abroad. “The younger generation has won the battle,” says Olivier Roy, a French author on Islam in the West.

Arab governments sometimes berate their Western counterparts for not doing enough to curb extremism, by which they often mean curbing their exiled dissidents. In fact, Western governments do monitor hate speech and support for terrorism. But viewing Islam primarily through a security prism distorts relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

Religious leaders are seeking to bridge divides

Muslim inclusion in local decision-making can break down prejudice but often faces resistance from communities. Jennifer Eggert, a Muslim expert on terrorism, tours London mosques arguing for Muslims to play a bigger part in countering terrorism. The New York Police Department overcame communal mistrust by creating a Muslim Officers Society, the first in America. This has helped increase police recruitment among Muslims from fewer than a dozen in 2001 to over 1,000, says its founder, Adeel Rana. The inauguration last month of America’s first two Muslim congresswomen may also help normalise Muslim participation at all levels of society.

Integrating Islam more into national histories could play a part, too. In some British mosques imams pinned poppies on each other to mark the centennial of the first world war and remember the hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in battle. But their sacrifice is rarely commemorated at national level, contributing to the feeling that Muslims remain outsiders. Now “we are creating a generation not of foreign fighters but of foreign citizens,” says Khalid Chaouki, a former mp in Italy’s parliament who runs the country’s largest mosque in Rome.

Cultural programmes, too, can cross communal boundaries. When the Benaki Museum in Athens began offering school tours of its Islamic art collection, an mp accused it of spreading the culture of terror. A decade on, the museum has expanded the programme to include interactive tours of life in Ottoman Athens. “We’re filling a big gap in our history that most schools skip over,” says Maria-Christina Yannoulatou, the head of the museum’s education department, referring to 450 years of Muslim rule that Greece omits from its curriculum. “We want to challenge taboos and show the ordinary lives that heroic histories obscure.”

Religious leaders are also seeking to bridge divides. Many priests work hard to counter far-right narratives, accusing anti-immigrant politicians of betraying Christian ethics. Many churches double as sanctuaries for refugees. Some synagogues as well as churches in America host Muslim Friday prayers for congregations lacking a space to worship. In the same vein, after a right-wing gunmen fired on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, Muslims packed the vigils, sent tweets of condolence and spoke at events on anti-Semitism. In Germany’s election in 2017 church-going voters were three times less likely to vote for the far-right afd party than secular ones.

Having settled in the West for the third time in history, this time in a different role, Islam seems destined to stay. The journey so far has not been easy. But a third generation of Muslims now seems set to become a permanent part of a more diverse, more tolerant Western society—as long as that society continues to nurture those virtues.

Source: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

France Has Millions of Muslims. Why Does It Import Imams?

Valid question and reveals some of the straitjackets of French history and policies:

What to do about Islam in France? Considering Islamist terrorist attacks, communalism and the international manipulation of Muslim communities, the matter is pressing. But it’s contentious, because managing Islam seems to go against laïcité, France’s staunch version of state secularism, and a 1905 law that mandates the separation of church and state.

Wouldn’t revising that law be an admission that secularism is bowing to Islamism? On the other hand, if the law isn’t revised, or if the French state cannot find other ways of monitoring and steering Islam, then Islam in France risks falling under the control of foreign states or the influence of radicals. That is already the case, actually: Since laïcité prohibits the French authorities from using public funds to build mosques or train imams, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have stepped in. According to the newsmagazine L’Express, 70 percent of imams practicing in France are not French.

In an attempt to overcome these paradoxes, President Emmanuel Macron recently convened at the Élysée Palace the country’s various Muslim leaders and then representatives from all religions. The order of the day for the broader meeting, held on Jan. 10, was old emergencies: how to punish radicalism, control the financing of mosques and make Muslim authorities accountable. The news daily Le Monde, which obtained the note that the president handed to attendees, reported that the government was proposing to revise the 1905 law while “confirming” “its principles.”

It was an attempt to square a circle, a malaise, so very French. And the narrower question of what to do about imams — their origins, their trainings, their salaries — summarizes it well.

Here is a first hurdle: It’s virtually impossible to tally imams in France. No one really knows how many there are, partly because the collection of data based on ethnic or religious grounds is prohibited. The last available estimates from the interior ministry — which date back to 2012 — put the number of mosques in France at around 2,500. (A 2016 report by the Senate said it was closer to 3,000.) But those figures are as outdated today as they were imprecise in the first place: What even counts as a “mosque” when so many Muslim believers gather in the basements of low-income building complexes or other improvised prayer halls? And there being 2,500 mosques doesn’t mean there are 2,500 imams: In Sunni Islam, the version of Islam most prevalent in France, anyone can declare oneself an imam and volunteer to lead prayers or the Friday Sermon.

There is no central authority overseeing Islam in France. Anyway, how do you supervise the mosques you don’t fund or imams you can’t pay?

For the time being, France, for lack of its own theological schools, has favored filtered immigration: It brings in imams from abroad, mostly from the home countries of its main immigrant communities, either for long stretches or just for Ramadan. Paradoxically, one of the justifications for this policy — though rarely admittedly publicly — is security: It seems less risky to rely on an official imam from Algeria than to let a self-proclaimed imam emerge in a Paris banlieue, or suburb.

For example, Algerian imams wishing to go to France must first undergo investigations. And as the Algerian government puts it, modestly, the “Algerian expertise” in internal security matters ensures quality vetting. The government has also offered its services to the United States, Belgium and Italy.

In 2018, Algeria sent approximately 100 imams to officiate in France. Morocco and Tunisia contributed about as many each. In 2017, L’Express ran the headline “Morocco, the factory of French imams,” with an article on imam-apprentices, some sent from France, whom the kingdom was training in how to dispense “middle-ground” Islambefore dispatching them abroad. According to the news weekly Le Point, Turkish “consular structures” oversee more than 250 mosques and about 200 official imams seconded by Turkey to France.

The filtered import of foreign imams may look like a good practical solution; in fact, it’s an ideological trap. These imams, even if acting in good faith, can only reinforce communalism in France and work against integration, because they are not French. In the name of laïcité, France is dangerously delegating its Islam to other states.

Those states benefit. For the Algerian government, the export of imams seems to confirm the country’s return to stability. Saudi Arabia sees proselytizing as a form of soft power. So does Turkey, which appears invested in maintaining a religious lobby abroad.

The stakes are high, apparently. When last year the Austrian government expelled about 60 Turkish preachers to counter, it said, the creation of “parallel societies” and “political Islam,” Turkey called the move “racist” and “Islamophobic.” When the French government said it wanted to create a distinct “Islam of France,” Algeria — speaking indirectly, via an expert’s op-ed in state media — accused it of “arrogance tinted with ignorance.”

The import of imams, the foreign financing of mosques — these delegations of power by the French authorities are a dead end: They won’t do enough to stem radicalism in France, and they will do even less to nurture the emergence of, precisely, an Islam of France.

The president’s office seems to want to overcome all this. But some of the participants in that first meeting convened by Mr. Macron at the beginning of the year reacted with calculated anger before accepting the invitation. Members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith decried the “colonial administration of Islam.” It’s a clever conflation: By invoking colonialism, they can leverage guilt as a bargaining chip while maintaining Islam’s communal valence. Why do that? For fear of losing power if France develops a sui generis form of Islam. Harping on Muslims’ status as a once-colonized group is a way of highlighting their ties to their countries of origin, over those to their host country.

Past attempts to create Muslim councils — the Great Mosque of Paris, the Federation of French Muslims, the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (also known as Muslims of France) — that could effectively represent France’s various Muslim communities have failed. One reason is the rivalry among the groups’ leaders, different confessional strands and foreign governments with ties to immigrant communities.Algeria competes with Morocco, and both of them compete with Turkey and Saudi Arabia: As the journalist Henri Tincq has pointed out on Slate.fr, the Paris Mosque is “loyal to Algeria,” the Federation of French Muslims has “ties to the Muslim World League and Morocco” and the Union of Islamic Organizations in France is “close to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It’s difficult to separate Islam from its community and the community from its country of origin without being accused of interference. Whenever the French government tries to manage Islam in France, Algeria says it’s meddling, when in saying so, it is Algeria that is meddling in France’s affairs.

So what can be done? One solution has been put forward by Hakim El Karoui, an international consultant close to Mr. Macron and the author of the recent report “The Islamist Factory” and, in 2016, of “A French Islam Is Possible.”

First, he recommends strictly supervising external financing or informal funds collected in mosques, neighborhoods or local associations. He also suggests creating an independent fund for training imams by taxing halal businesses, money collected through the Muslim alms known as zakat and commerce around the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those are good ideas for trying to keep state and church, or cult, separate while integrating French Muslims into France.

But just what should be uniting is proving divisive: Mr. El Karoui’s proposals are controversial, notably for the French Council of the Muslim Faith. One of the organization’s vice-presidents called them an “insult” to Islam and accused Mr. El Karoui of conflating Islam and Islamism. That reaction sums up well the endless-seeming debate between those who want to maintain a monopoly over Islam in France and those who wish to develop an Islam of France.

Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

While accommodation generally should work both ways (i.e., as long as food is labelled and choice of alternatives), it does seem a lack of sensitivity at a national Islam conference. Would the Interior Ministry serve pork at an antisemitism conference?

When Canada organized an international antisemitism conference in 2010, all the food served was kosher:

Germany’s Interior Ministry has come under fire for serving blood sausage at a national Islam conference last week, despite pork being forbidden for practicing Muslims.

The issue has stirred a heated debate — one that touches on the fault line issues of integration and respect for different religions — between critics of the ministry and right-wing groups who justified the decision to serve the dish.

The ministry has defended its decision to serve the sausage consisting of pig’s blood, pork and bacon at the evening buffet on Wednesday. It said the serving reflected the “religious-pluralistic composition” of the event, which brought together Muslim associations and leaders with officials from the federal and local governments.

The ministry added that there was a wide range of food at the “clearly excellent” buffet, with vegetarian, meat, fish and halal dishes available. “If individuals were still offended for religious reasons, we regret this,” it said.

Nonetheless, some have viewed the choice of blood sausage as a deliberate provocation by hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

In March, Seehofer caused a stir when he said in an interview that “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany” and that “Germany has been shaped by Christianity,” a comment he partially dialed back last week at the Islam conference.

#BloodSausageGate

Turkish-German journalist Tuncay Ozdamar, who first reported the “#BloodSausageGate” scandal, questioned on Twitter what message Seehofer had intended to send with the culinary decision.

“A little respect for Muslims who do not eat pork would be appropriate,” wrote Ozdamar, who himself claims to eat pork.

In comments published on the website Watson.de, Ozdamar said he had no objection to offering pork in schools with Muslim children because Germany is a multi-cultural country.

“But if I convene an Islam conference and invite Muslims to engage in dialogue, solve the problems of religion that arise in everyday life, then I have to be a bit sensitive, tactful and respectful,” he said.

Green Party politician Volker Beck also slammed the Interior Ministry, writing on Twitter that “appreciating diversity means also considering different habits.”

No clear markings?

Ali Bas, a Green Party spokesman for religious issues, told Watson.de that the blood sausage was not clearly identified at the buffet, but was rather served on appetizer trays. The Interior Ministry had said the food servings were clearly marked.

Many Muslims abstain from eating meat if it is unclear whether it is halal. Blood sausage could potentially be confused with sucuk, a halal sausage widely consumed in Turkey and the Arab world.

The Interior Ministry reportedly served ham in the first year of the annual Islam Conference in 2006.

Far-right AfD sees threat 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) quickly entered the discussion, accusing critics of the Interior Ministry of launching an attack on German culture.

“Tolerance starts at the point where the blood sausage is seen simply for what it is: a German delicacy  that no one has to like, but that, just like our way of life, cannot be taken away from us,” AfD lawmaker Alice Weidel wrote on Twitter.

The post was accompanied by a picture of Weidel smiling in front of several blood sausages topped with basil leaves.

Ozcan Mutlu, a Green politician of Turkish descent, responded to the hysteria with a jab at the far-right.

“While the Twitter Nazis are fighting for the survival of the blood sausage and getting riled up over #BloodSausageGate, I’m drinking a beer at a German beer garden in Brooklyn to honor those sensible compatriots back home,” he wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag “#87percent” to refer to the percentage of voters who did not back the AfD in the 2017 general election.

Source: Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

Islam – Tunisia Sharia put aside: women will inherit like men

Encouraging:

A wind of freedom is sweeping across North Africa, in Tunisia to be exact. This small, Muslim majority country (over 98 per cent) is on the road to legally recognise equality for both sexes in matters of inheritance. This is a brave step and the first time in the history of the Muslim world since the early Caliphate era.

In general, women are placed in inferior conditions in Muslim countries. Under the Sharia, women (sisters, daughters, etc.) inherit half of what men get (sons, brothers, etc.) in terms of inheritance.

Last Friday, Tunisian President Caid Essebsi announced with clarity and courage that Tunisia will be a democratic and secular state, not a theocratic one. For this reason, he noted that “the Personal Status Code must be changed. This has no link to religion or the Quran.” Citing Article 2 of the Constitution, he said “We are a civil state and we must respect the Constitution”.

Caid Essebsi proposed that gender equality in inheritance be recognised in law, modifying the Personal Status Code. In his opinion, this step should have taken place in 1956, but the Constitution of that time did not provide for it, unlike the current one.

Thus, two days ago, the cabinet agreed to legalise equality between the two sexes in matters of inheritance. This makes Tunisia the first Muslim country to break from Sharia, Islamic (Sunni) law.

I am very happy for this because it is a good start to ending the unjust and misogynistic Islamic Sharia that has ruled the Islamic world since the Middle Ages. The new law does not contradict the Quran. Contemporary Qur’anic interpretations by the exegete Mohamed Shahrour, like those of current Quranist thought, explain with great clarity that women must have the same proportion of inheritance as men.

This kind of law and interpretations will certainly unleash waves of outrage on the grounds that they offend the precepts of Islam and deviate from the words of God. In other words: Islamists will see themselves as defenders of God himself. But is God so powerless that he needs to be defended?

As a Muslim and because I am interested in all the issues that touch the Islamic world, I think that the adoption of this type of law will play a fundamental role in the emancipation of Muslim women, held for centuries under male rule. This is justified in the name of God and his prophet.

I find we must break the taboo with courage and in depth, to allow women, religious minorities and peaceful and modern Muslims to free themselves from the yoke of the Sunni dictatorship.

Based on Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia), adopted centuries ago, Tunisia applied these medieval and rigid religious laws. Now, this country, which little by little has set itself on the path of modernisation, is gently but securely breaking away from the theological foundations laid down by ancient Sunni scholars and has chosen a modern and contemporary vision. And if we want to meet the objections of Sunni Muslims, by referring solely to the Quranic text, we realise that by establishing the equality of the two sexes, Tunisia has respected the religious text.

Tunisia today deserves to be celebrated and encouraged for this courageous achievement and for its challenge to everything concerning the Sunni religious dictatorship. It is another step that follows the adoption last year of the law that allows Tunisians to marry non-Muslims.

On my behalf and that of all the Muslims of the 21st century who want to modernise, update and free our religion from irrational readings, I would like to congratulate the Tunisian people for this result and thank them infinitely for this glimmer of hope sown in our hearts – even if the path will certainly be hard and full of obstacles – to be able to be completely free one day from the Sunni dictatorship. Things will be possible where there is the political will.

Other Muslim peoples must take Tunisia as an example and wake up before it is too late.

Source: ISLAM – TUNISIA Sharia put aside: women will inherit like men

And the counter reaction begins with Egypt’s grand mufti:

Mufti of Egypt Shawki Allam stressed on Monday that granting women and men equal inheritance rights violates Islamic Sharia.

In a statement, the Mufti said the concept of gender equality in inheritance is against Islam’s teachings.

Islamic Sharia allows men to inherit double what a woman would receive.

In Islam, Ijtihad is not employed where authentic texts (Qur’an and Hadith) are considered unambiguous with regard to the matter in question, he said.

All inheritance laws are detailed in Quran in a clear way, he added.

The remarks came after Tunisia’s president on Monday proposed giving women equal inheritance rights in a clear challenge to Islamic law.

Source: Granting women, men equal inheritance rights violates Islamic Sharia: Egypt’s mufti

An ancient community in Pakistan fades as conversions to Islam rise

Sad report regarding the fate of a small minority community:

For centuries, a small community of fair-skinned, blue-eyed people known as the Kalasha have inhabited a remote valley in northwest Pakistan, farming and raising animals.

Legend has it that their roots go back to Alexander the Great, whose forces passed through the mountainous region in the 3rd century B.C. But scientific studies describe them as a having “enigmatic” and “complex” origins, possibly being the first migrant group to reach the Indian subcontinent from Asia.

The Kalasha people, who speak a unique dialect, have no written religion or places of worship. Instead, they hold ritual celebrations of seasonal change every spring and fall, with colorful costumes and dancing that have long attracted visitors to their alpine home.

In recent years, however, a new outside influence — Sunni Islam — has started seeping into the valley, changing its way of life and dramatically reducing the number of non-Muslims. In the past three years, according to local surveys, 300 Kalashas have converted, reducing the number of non-converts from about 4,100 to 3,800. Local leaders fear their culture may be swallowed up and vanish.

The pace of conversions has accelerated, especially among young people, with Kalasha girls marrying Muslims and Muslim teachers urging students to convert. There also has been a boom in the construction of mosques, with at least 18 now in the valley.

“After hundreds of years, we have been turned into a minority on our own land,” said Shah Feroz, 27, a volunteer teacher in this hillside town of wooden chalets and steep lanes, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The religious inroads have become entwined with land disputes, especially over large tracts of forest that Kalasha communities own jointly as a matter of tradition. Last month, one court case over land rights reached the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which instructed the provincial courts to review the issue and report back in one month.

Last summer, the Kalasha gained their first-ever voice in government. Wazirzada Khan, 34, a political activist from the valley, was named to the provincial assembly under the law reserving seats for minorities. His nominator was Imran Khan, then a political leader in the province and now Pakistan’s prime minister.

“The Kalasha are the indigenous owners of the land, forests and mountains. We need laws to preserve our community,” Wazirzada Khan said. Kalashas who convert to Islam “do so willingly,” he added, but the community “should be declared a national heritage with special status.”

Other Kalasha activists said they were historically disdained by Muslims as “infidels,” along with a separate group of Kalashas in Afghanistan’s Nurestan province across the border.

Akram Hussain, 34, a social worker, described himself as “the sole Kalasha survivor in my family” after his mother died and his father married a Muslim woman.

“When a Muslim teacher warns you that you’re an infidel and will be burned in hell, a kid can’t evade this threatening influence,” he said. “I was told by my Muslim teachers to read [Islamic verses] that say it is compulsory to become a Muslim. But we don’t pressure our youths about our Kalasha beliefs.”

Feroz noted that all students in mixed schools are taught Islamic studies. On a recent morning, in the sixth-grade girls’ class at one local school, all Kalasha and Muslim students were reciting Koranic sayings. Feroz said community leaders want a substitute subject, such as ethics, to be taught.

“If you start reading Islamic subjects as compulsory from beginning through university level, then you will be influenced by Islamic teachings,” he said.

In recent years, the Kalasha have attracted European researchers and support, resulting in community benefits including a school that teaches the Kalasha dialect. But some visiting foreigners have also been victims of criminal and insurgent attacks.

According to local leaders, in 2002, a Spanish researcher living in the valley, Jordi Magraner, was found dead with his throat slit, along with two local residents. In 2009, a Greek scholar who helped build the Kalasha school, Athanasion Larounis, was kidnapped by Afghan Taliban forces but eventually freed and returned to Greece.

There have been other episodes of violence attributed to cross-border Taliban intruders. One farmer said two goat keepers had been brutally killed and thousands of goats stolen. “When we ask, we are told that the militants came from Nurestan,” he said.

Yet the larger clash here is the competition between a long-dominant culture with relaxed, secular values and an aggressively expanding faith with strict rules and conservative moral views.

The Kalasha grow grapes and offer free wine to visitors at festivals, where men and women dance together.

They also mourn their dead by dancing and leave them inside coffins above the ground, weighted down by stones with their valuables, though lately they have started burying them because of robbers.

One Kalasha farmer complained of hate speech broadcast through local mosque loudspeakers.

“We don’t make wine to sell, and we don’t force people to drink,” said Shahi Gul, 50, a mother of six. “We are blamed by the local clerics as using wine to tempt Muslim youth, which is not true. We do this as it is allowed in our religion and culture.”

Gul, whose sisters and niece converted to Islam, said she worries about the conversion of so many young Kalashas, especially through marriage. She said girls are “easily converted” by Muslim visitors who woo and marry them.

“We don’t force our children over marriage,” Gul said. “When a Kalasha girl wants to marry a Muslim, she accepts Islam and shifts to a Muslim family.”

Jamroz Khan, a Muslim cleric in the valley whose grandfather converted to Islam 70 years ago, considers Kalasha customs to be wicked, but he said no one in the valley has been converted by force.

“We do our preaching and convince them they should come to the right path,” he said. “We teach them that they are practicing infidelity by mixed gatherings, dancing and using alcohol. We ask them to stop these infidel practices.”

Khan noted with pride that several decades ago, “there was not a single Muslim family here, but now half of the village has accepted Islam,” he said. “All praise to Allah, we are preaching to convert all.”

To Lali Gul, a Kalasha woman who sells traditional costumes and caps, the spread of Islam across the valley will be hard to stop. Muslim tourists, she said, bring money as well as take brides. When her daughter met a Muslim visitor and converted to marry him, she did not try to dissuade her.

“We are free and open-minded people. We don’t interfere in our children’s decisions to be a Kalasha or Muslim,” Gul said. “But our community is shrinking. I fear that very soon, there will be no Kalasha left in this valley.”

Source: An ancient community in Pakistan fades as conversions to Islam rise

What happened when I wrote about Islam in Britain: Andy Ngo

The nuance and overall context comes later in the article. And some elements described have parallels among other traditional or fundamentalist religions. But the issues are real:

‘I was segregated from non-Muslims from the beginning, not just physically, but also in terms of the core beliefs I had instilled in me,’ Sohail Ahmed tells me. He’s a soft-spoken 26-year-old student from East London who grew up in a fundamentalist Muslim community. In 2014, Sohail’s parents sent him to an Islamic exorcist in Newham because they believed his homosexuality was caused by a jinn, or spirit. The exorcisms didn’t work and his parents eventually kicked him out of the home. Sohail contemplated a suicide attack in Canary Wharf to redeem himself.

I met Sohail while researching an article about Islam in Britain. This was eventually published in the Wall Street Journal on August 29. It was called ‘A Visit to Islamic England.’ The article briefly became a Twitter sensation, for the wrong reasons. I made a mistake, which was widely picked on. I described the existence of ‘alcohol restricted’ signs in Whitechapel, East London, and implied it was because of the heavy Muslim presence in the area. Such signs actually exist in various areas across the UK and have nothing to do with religious sensibilities.

Perhaps I was a little tone deaf to the realities of modern Britain. Perhaps I allowed my surprise at how fundamentally Islamified parts of the country have become to color my writing. Certainly, I failed to appreciate just what a sensitive subject I was writing about.

I began receiving hundreds (and then thousands) of messages and comments calling me a racist and ‘Islamophobe.’ ‘Someone airdrop @MrAndyNgo into a KKK rally,’ tweeted Rabia Chaudry, a New York Times bestselling Muslim-American writer. Mike Stuchbery, a British leftist social media commentator encouraged his 52,000 Twitter followers to ‘direct [their] ire’ at me. They obliged.

I had touched a nerve. Britain’s organized Islamist lobby also responded fiercely. This included the Muslim Council of Britain, an organization with links to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamist party in Pakistan committed to the implementation of Shari’a. Members of the party recently protested across Pakistan over the acquittal of Asia Bibi, who was on death row for eight years over an accusation of blasphemy. CAGE, a British Muslim advocacy group that called Islamic State terrorist Mohammed Emwazi (aka ‘Jihadi John’) a ‘beautiful man’, dug through my social media history to pile on the outrage. American Muslim reformer, Asra Nomani calls this loose network of writers, politicians and activists, the ‘honor brigade.’ Motivated by a shame-based religious outlook, they cast vicious aspersions on anyone who criticizes Islamism.

Next came columns in a variety of publications. Alex Lockie, a news editor at Business Insider UK, denounced my writing as ‘cowardly’ and ‘race-baiting.’ The New Arab, a Qatari-owned media outlet published three op-eds mocking and condemning my writing.

These vitriolic attacks all seized on my mistake over the sign as evidence of my prejudice against Muslims. In fact, I was just trying and perhaps sometimes failing to describe what I saw. I admit to having been surprised by quite how segregated some parts of Britain have become. I try not to make judgments about that, but what I believe to be true is that Britain’s multicultural policies have produced what the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen calls, ‘plural monoculturalism.’ That is, different communities, or monocultures, existing side-by-side with little to no interaction with one another.

This is the reality I witnessed and described in parts of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, and Luton. Media commentators can refute it all they like, but I’ve spoken with many Britons and British Muslims from those areas who agree with my portrayals.

Plus, the data suggests it is a larger phenomenon across the UK. According to a 2016 survey by ICM Research for Channel 4, more than 50 percent of British Muslims live in areas that are at least 20 percent Muslim. Of that, around a fifth had not even entered the home of a non-Muslim in the past year.

I don’t fault the residents of these areas, many of whom are immigrants like my parents, for choosing to live in communities that are culturally familiar to them. I do fault the British state’s multicultural policies for unintentionally creating barriers to integration, and for leaving the most vulnerable (e.g. women, sexual, and religious minorities) trapped in structures of oppression. People like Sohail, for example.

‘My old Muslim friends said they fully supported my parents disowning me and cutting off familial ties,’ he says. Sohail has since become an atheist but still lives with the consequences of his former extremism. In 2016, he was denied entry into the US based on security concerns.

Sohail believes the segregated nature of the area his Pakistani family settled in the mid-Nineties made them vulnerable to indoctrination. One memory he has ingrained from childhood is community members rejoicing when 9/11 happened. And although dress is not a reliable measurement of extremism, Sohail recalls his mother going through a gradual sartorial transformation. She first adopted a hijab, then a jilbab (a full-length garment), and finally a niqab (face veil) and gloves. ‘If I didn’t live in a closed community,’ he says, ‘I would have felt more comfortable mentioning [the abuse] to mental health professionals, counselors, teachers, and social workers.’

Halima echoes some of Sohail’s experiences. She is an art student who hails from an Indian Muslim community in Blackburn, a heavily segregated town north of Manchester. ‘I had a good childhood until my period started,’ she says bluntly.

From birth, Halima lived in the shadow of her father, a deeply religious man who was esteemed in the community for being a hafiz, someone who memorized the Qur’an by heart. She was expected to maintain the family’s honor and reputation through wearing a headscarf, remaining chaste, and being pious. After she reached puberty, her family’s grasp tightened on her with the help of a watchful community. During high school, Halima says her mother used one of the school’s mentors as a secret informant. Her father began to regularly beat her.

At 14, state authorities finally intervened after Halima’s boyfriend called the police. According to the 2014 court hearing, her father beat her with a tennis racket and said he would kill her ‘before the community finds out [about her non-Muslim boyfriend].’ Her father was later convicted of child cruelty and given a suspended sentence. Halima alleges that the police officer who fingerprinted her belonged to the same ethno-religious community and actually worked with her uncle in taking her to her grandfather’s home, where she was further punished.

Today, Halima is estranged from her family and is in the process of legally changing her name. ‘It is a signifier of being my father’s possession.’ She says Britain’s fear of offending the religious is causing it to turn a blind eye to abuses happening from within. ‘I feel let down by mainstream British society, especially the authorities,’ she says. ‘If I was white my dad would’ve gotten prison time. [Society is] quite oblivious to what happens in spheres other than white middle class circles.’

Of course not all British Muslims come from such extreme communities. Many, like London’s own mayor Sadiq Khan, are testament to successful integration. This success is partly reflected in the data. ICM’s survey showed that a strong majority, 86 percent, of British Muslims feel a strong belonging to the UK. However, those facts cannot obscure the evidence that certain social chasms have simultaneously developed. The few surveys conducted on British Muslims show shockingly regressive attitudes on homosexuality, gender norms, and sex. A 2009 Gallup pollfound zero percent of British Muslims believed homosexuality was ‘morally acceptable.’ ICM’s 2016 poll found that 52 percent believe homosexuality should be illegal in the country.

These beliefs have implications for other groups in a society. According to a 2018 survey by NatCen, Britain’s largest independent social research agency, Londoners are actually less tolerant of homosexuality and premarital sex than the rest of the country. How could this be so in one of the most modern, cosmopolitan and diverse cities on earth? The survey’s researchers attribute this to ‘religious differences’ — and surely London’s 12.4 percent Muslim community contributes to those, along with black Evangelicals and Eastern European Catholics.

Curiously, one of the religious tracts I received from a mosque during my visits faulted gay men for the excess of unmarried women. ‘New York alone has one million more females as compared to the number of males, and of the male population of New York one-third are gays i.e. sodomites,’ writes Zakir Naik, an Indian fundamentalist preacher. ‘The USA as a whole has more than 25 million gays.’ Naik was banned from entering the UK in 2010 but his tracts are readily available in mosques across the country.

I show Sohail the barrage of messages calling me a liar for my Wall Street Journalpiece. He is surprised. ‘I walked with you through some of those areas you mentioned. What you said conforms with my own experiences in these areas. That’s all I can say.’

Source: What happened when I wrote about Islam in Britain