Switzerland’s Mid-Pandemic Burqa Ban Doesn’t Protect Liberal Values or Security. It Marginalizes Muslim Women.

Of note:

Switzerland, hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has been in a partial shutdown since January. Face masks are mandatory everywhere from public transportation to the country’s idyllic ski slopes. But that reality didn’t stop a slim majority of Swiss voters from approving a ban on full-face coverings in public spaces in a March 7 referendum.

The new ban wasn’t motivated by anti-mask sentiment. In fact, it won’t apply to facial coverings worn for health reasons—now or after the pandemic. Rather, the measure was aimed at a minuscule minority of Muslim women who wear the burqa or niqab. And while similar initiatives in France, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria have always been controversial, the deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves once and for all that efforts to ban face coverings were never really about supposed security concerns surrounding face concealment in public spaces. At their core, burqa bans have always been an attempt to marginalize Muslim women—and they have succeeded in bringing anti-Muslim sentiment into the mainstream.

Switzerland’s referendum was the product of a people’s initiative launched by the Egerkinger Komitee, an advocacy group that includes members of the right-wing, national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and aimsto organize against “the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.” Arguing that “free people show their face” and “the burqa and niqab are not normal clothes,” the group in 2017 collected the required 100,000 petition signatures to put the issue to a referendum. On March 7, 51.2 percent of Swiss voters approved it.

The deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves it was never about supposed security concerns.

Clamping down on the visibility of Muslims in Switzerland is nothing new. Swiss Muslims have been under scrutiny since 2004, when Switzerland held a pair of referendums on measures that would have eased access to citizenship for second- and third-generation immigrants. The SVP’s strong mobilization against the initiatives transformed them instead into cultural referendums on whether Muslims are part of the Swiss national community, a notion the majority of Swiss voters rejected. Then, in 2009, the Egerkinger Komitee proposed an initiative that sought to ban minarets on the grounds that they are a symbol of political Islam. It was approved by 57.5 percent of Swiss voters despite the opposition of domestic Muslim organizations and church leaders from other religious groups.

In December 2014, the SVP first sought to prohibit full-face coverings via a parliamentary initiative to amend the Federal Constitution, arguing that burqas are a threat to national security. But the Swiss Council of States rejected it in March 2017 on the grounds that the small number of burqa-clad women in Switzerland meant public order was not disturbed. There was also concern that a ban would have a negative impact on tourism from Gulf countries.

Though the SVP and Egerkinger Komitee have been active for decades, Switzerland’s burqa referendum can’t be explained without the broader regional context: namely, Europe’s crisis of identity in a globalized, multicultural world. Switzerland is only the latest country to express and assuage this cultural insecurity by managing the visibility of Muslims and Islam, which are perceived as a political, ideological, and national security threat to European values and civilization.

Muslims have been part of Europe’s fabric for centuries, but they continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented in media and politics, where Islam is often framed as an inherently violent religion and Muslims are portrayed as incapable of integrating into European societies. While there is certainly some cultural anxiety—the natural result of rapidly changing demographics on the continent—most of the sensationalism is constructed, encouraged, and egged on by political parties that have a vested interest in creating a supposed “Muslim problem.” The purveyors of these ideas seek to convince the broad populace that Islam is a religion inherently at odds with Western values and that Muslims must be tamed and domesticated. Right now, they are winning.

In Switzerland, demonizing Islam, Muslims, and immigrants as hostile to human rights and freedom—of expression, religion, and sexual orientation—has long been a pillar of the SVP’s electoral strategy, as well as that of other populist national conservative parties such as the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland and the Ticino League. Because this fixation has contributed to countless electoral victories for the SVP—transforming it into one of the most powerful parties in the country—others have adopted its strategy.

China’s Crackdown on Muslims Extends to a Resort Island

Relentless pressures and crackdowns…

The call to prayer still echoes through the alleys of Sanya’s nearly 1,000-year-old Muslim neighborhood, where crescent-topped minarets rise above the rooftops. The government’s crackdown on the tiny, deeply pious community in this southern Chinese city has been subtle.

Signs on shops and homes that read “Allahu akbar” — “God is greatest” in Arabic — have been covered with foot-wide stickers promoting the “China Dream,” a nationalistic official slogan. The Chinese characters for halal, meaning permissible under Islam, have been removed from restaurant signs and menus. The authorities have closed two Islamic schools and have twice tried to bar female students from wearing head scarves.

The Utsuls, a community of no more than 10,000 Muslims in Sanya, are among the latest to emerge as targets of the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign against foreign influence and religions. Their troubles show how Beijing is working to erode the religious identity of even its smallest Muslim minorities, in a push for a unified Chinese culture with the Han ethnic majority at its core.

The new restrictions in Sanya, a city on the resort island of Hainan, mark a reversal in government policy. Until several years ago, officials supported the Utsuls’ Islamic identity and their ties with Muslim countries, according to local religious leaders and residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid government retaliation.

The party has said its restrictions on Islam and Muslim communities are aimed at curbing violent religious extremism. It has used that rationale to justify a clampdown on Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, following a series of attacksseven years ago. But Sanya has seen little unrest.

The tightening of control over the Utsuls “reveals the real face of the Chinese Communist campaign against local communities,” said Ma Haiyun, an associate professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland who studies Islam in China. “This is about trying to strengthen state control. It’s purely anti-Islam.”

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it opposes Islam. But under Xi Jinping, its top leader, the party has torn down mosques, ancient shrines and Islamic domes and minarets in northwestern and central China. Its crackdown has focused heavily on the Uighurs, a Central Asian Muslim minority of 11 million in Xinjiang, many of whom have been held in mass detention camps and forced to renounce Islam.

The effort to “sinicize Islam” accelerated in 2018 after the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a confidential directive ordering officials to prevent the faith from interfering with secular life and the state’s functions. The directive warned against “Arabization” and the influence of Saudi Arabia, or “Saudi-ization,” in mosques and schools.

In Sanya, the party is going after a group with a significant position in China’s relations with the Islamic world. The Utsuls have played host to Muslims from around the country seeking the balmy climes of Hainan Province, and they have served as a bridge to Muslim communities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The Utsuls’ Islamic identity was celebrated for years by the government as China pushed for stronger links with the Arab world. Such links have been key to Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program to finance infrastructure projects across the world and increase Beijing’s political sway in the process.

The Utsuls have become “an important base for Muslims who have moved abroad to find their roots and investigate their ancestors,” said a government notice in 2017 hailing the role of Islam in Hainan in the Belt and Road plan. “To date, they have received thousands of scholars and friends from more than a dozen countries and regions, and are an important window for cultural exchanges among peoples around the South China Sea.”

Douglas Todd: B.C. Muslims rattled by confrontational Victoria imam

Certainly hate speech, and interesting point about the impact of the Harper government’s repeal of provisions allowing citizens to launch civil actions against online hate speech:

A militant imam in Victoria who openly calls Jews, Christians, atheists and free-speech advocates “filthy” and “evil” is causing distress among Canadian Muslims, and there are calls for him to be prosecuted for hate speech.

“Younus Kathrada is not taken seriously in our community. Somebody making those claims is not part of Islam. But I guess there is a fringe element that follows him,” says Haroon Khan, a trustee at Vancouver’s Al-Jamia mosque, which belongs to the B.C. Muslim Association and often holds interfaith events.

Source: Douglas Todd: B.C. Muslims rattled by confrontational Victoria imam

Denmark to classify immigrants from Muslim countries separately in crime statistics

If it covered more groups than just Muslims, it would both be more useful as well as less identity politics based (Canada would benefit from regularized breakdowns by visible minority groups for crime, health and other statistics):

Immigration and integration minister Mattias Tesfaye has signalled his support for the statistical differentiation of people in Denmark with Middle Eastern and North African heritage.

Categorising people according to region is beneficial in understanding patterns of crime and employment in people in Denmark with foreign heritage (indvandrere og efterkommere), the minister said in an interview with newspaper Berlingske.

“We need more honest numbers and I think it will benefit and qualify the integration debate if we get these figures out in the open, because fundamentally, they show that we in Denmark don’t really have problems with people from Latin America and the Far East. We have problems with people from the Middle East and North Africa,” Tesfaye said to the newspaper.

Under the current system, Denmark differentiates between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ heritage in official statistics on immigrants and their children.

All EU countries, along with Andorra, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Vatican are considered ‘Western’. Everywhere else is ‘non-Western’.

A person is considered to have Danish heritage if she or he has at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. People defined as ‘immigrants’ and ‘descendants’ do not fulfil those criteria.

While an ‘immigrant’ was born outside of Denmark, a ‘descendant’ (efterkommer) is also considered to be ‘foreign’ for statistical purposes, despite being born in Denmark.

But the Ministry of Immigration and Integration is to further separate the two groups of immigrants and their children into the so-called ‘Menapt’ group, meaning people from the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey, according to Berlingske and Ritzau.

All are Muslim-majority countries or regions.

The nationalities encompassed by the group are over-represented in crime and unemployment statistics, Ritzau writes.

According to a ministry note reported by Berlingske, women with heritage in Menapt countries had an employment rate of 41.9 percent in 2018, compared to 61.6 percent for women from other non-Western countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: Denmark to classify immigrants from Muslim countries separately in crime statistics

China Targets Muslim Scholars And Writers With Increasingly Harsh Restrictions

Yet another example of Chinese government repression:

This spring, 14 men were brought into police offices, where, one by one, they were subjected to weeks of questioning about their online correspondence and political views.

Their offense? Buying Islamic books.

The men were detained in Yiwu, China, an international commercial hub on the country’s wealthy east coast and home to a growing community of Muslims. The detentions are emblematic of increasingly harsh restrictions targeting spiritual and educational life for Muslims in China.

Once focused on giving minorities limited cultural autonomy, China’s ethnic policy has shifted in the last decade toward an approach that favors complete assimilation with China’s Han ethnic majority in language and religious practice. Muslims in China now fear that religious freedoms are regressing to those in the days of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of severe political and religious persecution in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Every household would burn their religious books in case they were searched. Shredders were sold out. People would flush the book ashes down the toilet, sometime clogging the pipes,” one Chinese Muslim publisher says of that era. “The persecution we are facing now is worse than that time.”

The publisher, who has fled China and continues to publish books from abroad, requested anonymity because at least 40 of his relatives have been detained or sentenced to prison for their religious beliefs or connection to him. Many in his publishing network have been arrested or fled the country.

“The state only wants its garden to have one type of flower,” he says. “The red ones. Green, blue or white flowers: if they are not red, they will be cut down.”

Targeting scholars and writers

“Intellectuals are the bearers of tradition. They’re looked up to as the arbiters, the judges of what is the the real Islam, and so they make an attractive target for a government that is interested in either controlling cultural expression or trying to completely reengineer it,” says Rian Thum, who studies Islam in China as a senior research fellow at Britain’s University of Nottingham.

China is home to about 23 million practicing Muslims, according to its 2010 census, the most recent count — less than 2% of the country’s population. Most are Uighur — a Turkic ethnic group — or labeled as Hui, ethnically and linguistically indistinguishable from China’s Han ethnic majority. Chinese Muslims are most densely clustered in the northwestern regions of Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang, but live across the country, as they have for more than a millennium.

Last year, NPR reported that authorities had forced nearly all mosques in Ningxia and the eastern province of Henan to “renovate” by removing their domes and Arabic script. Demolitions have since extended to mosques in Zhejiang and Gansu provinces. But practicing Muslims say the most heavy-handed restrictions have targeted the intangible channels through which they have preserved their faith in China for centuries.

Beginning in 2018, new religious restrictions shuttered hundreds of Arabic language and Islamic schools across Ningxia and Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital. Imams must now take political education classes as part of a revamped certification program. The program also mandates that they can only serve in the region where their household is registered, effectively disbarring hundreds of itinerant imams.

The restrictions have only intensified since then. Mosque demolitions have spread. The intellectual heart of China’s Islamic community has largely been silenced as scholars, writers, religious leaders and their families are under constant state surveillance. A once-thriving academic and religious exchange between Chinese Muslims and centers across the Middle East and South Asia has halted, as those having business or religious ties abroad are subject to Chinese state harassment and detention.

“What dominates Muslim [government] cadres is the [Communist] party line and the official version of Islam promoted by government agencies and organizations,” says Ma Haiyun, an assistant professor at Frostburg State University, where he studies Islam in China. “The result of this restriction is to make traditional discourses on Islam more commercial, patriotic and Chinese.”

“We lived like ghosts”

The door to Qingzhen Shuju — Islam Books — remains padlocked, the shop full of stacks of books in their unopened packaging.

Located in an upscale university neighborhood in Beijing, the bookstore and its accompanying website were a prominent publisher of Islamic philosophy works and the newest Arabic works translated into Chinese — until publisher Ma Yinglong (no relation to Ma Haiyun) was arrested in 2017 on charges of illegal publishing and terrorism. Two people close to him say he remains in detention in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

A second influential publisher, Ma Zhixiong (no relation to either Ma), ran a prolific imprint called Tianma Publishing from China’s southwestern Yunnan province until he too was imprisoned for selling illegal books, in 2015. He was released on probation this year.

“The printing plant was closed and our equipment and all books were confiscated. In the first days [of my imprisonment], I was almost completely cut off from the outside world,” Ma Zhixiong wrote in an essay widely circulated this fall among chat groups on the Chinese WeChat app. “During my prison days, human dignity disappeared. Every day, people had to take off their clothes for inspection and to hold our heads while squatting down while being interrogated… We lived like ghosts.”

The two publishers were a critical link in a world of writers, publishers and bookstores, the backbone for religious studies in China. Their arrests are evidence of a crackdown widening from its epicenter in Xinjiang, where authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, sentencing some to lengthy prison terms for practicing Islam.

Despite international criticism, Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared the detention and security policies in Xinjiang “entirely correct” and a “success” at a September meeting of party officials. “We must persevere in Sinicizing the direction of our country’s religions,” he said.

The crushing of China’s Muslim writing community is a marked reversal from a period of literary openness after economic and political reforms took hold in the 1980s.

Despite some restrictions, Muslim writers thrived in the laissez-faire atmosphere of those decades. For example, unable to get the commercial book codes — similar to an ISBN number — allotted to state-sanctioned publishers for state-approved volumes, writers and editors self-published their works and distributed them by mail to readers and religious bookstores that were ubiquitous for decades outside larger mosques.

“Many people have been oppressed for their speech in China but among the Muslim community, those who get into trouble for their writing or publishing have gone unnoticed,” a prominent Chinese Muslim writer tells NPR.

He fled China last year after friends warned that police were seeking to detain him. He requested anonymity out of concern for the safety of his immediate family, almost all of whom remain in China.

He and hundreds of other Chinese Muslims used to moderate online forums and events and curated websites that discussed issues of scripture and philosophy. By 2016, those sites were shut down or censored within China’s Great Firewall. They moved to WeChat, where the writer now runs chat groups of 500 people each, but doing so requires constant vigilance: “Even on WeChat,” he says, “it is a continuous process of continually being shut down by censors and starting a new group.”

WeChat would also ensnare the 14 people detained in Yiwu earlier this year; all had purchased this writer’s books on history, scripture and philosophy through the app.

“They interrogated them about their relationship with several Muslim intellectuals and overseas Chinese Muslims. The police had printed out the text records everyone had had on WeChat with writers and publishers,” said a friend of one of those detained, who requested anonymity to avoid detention for speaking out. “Now the police say every time they travel, they have to report to them beforehand when they are leaving and where they are going.”

As for China’s Muslim community leaders, “There are no imams who dare to speak out,” says a scholar who leads a Quran reading group in northwestern China. “You can renounce your state-given imam certification and leave the mosque in order to speak out — but then you can be sure you will be constantly monitored.”

“They know what you are up to”

Beginning in 2017, Chinese Muslims outside Xinjiang watched with dread as hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic minority, were detained and sent either to “reeducation centers” or prison.

Soon after, Xinjiang security officers began fanning out to other provinces to send Hui Muslims with identity documents registered in Xinjiang back to the region.

One of those forcibly returned to Xinjiang was a young Hui woman who taught at a religious school in a mosque outside Xinjiang, after completing a theological studies degree at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University. Last December, Xinjiang police abruptly detained her and brought her back to her hometown of Tacheng.

“We asked them, why send 30 men to apprehend a young woman and her infant at 11 at night. It was unbelievable,” says a fellow teacher who asked to remain anonymous and keep his location withheld because he was detained and questioned after speaking to NPR.

He learned in March that the woman had been slapped with a seven-year prison sentence but doesn’t know on what charges.

Four Hui Muslims born in Xinjiang told NPR they managed to change the registration of their identity documents, called hukou, to another province before 2017, as restrictions on Uighurs and practicing Muslims in Xinjiang became more draconian.

Others moved abroad, but even outside China, Xinjiang security officials continue to harass them through WeChat.

“My hometown police somehow knew that I had even moved apartments this year,” says one Hui Muslim now living in Egypt who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from Chinese security officials. The police officers send “friendly” messages weekly, the person says, full of smiley faces, heart emojis and stickers, but their intent is clear: “It is meant to show they know what you are up to and to remind you of where you are from.”

Efforts to co-opt Muslim leaders

Xinjiang policing has even reached a beachside city on Hainan, a Chinese tropical island province in the South China Sea. Home to a small community of historically Muslim Utsuls, Hainan’s warm climes have begun attracting retirees and vacationers from other provinces during the winter months, including large numbers of Hui Muslims.

Last February, during Lunar New Year holidays, two Xinjiang public security officers set up a table at one of the six mosques in the city of Sanya to register identification documents of everyone who attended Friday prayers, according to two people who attended prayers that day. One of them evaded registration by slipping out through a side door.

In September, at the start of the fall semester, public schools in predominantly Utsul neighborhoods in Sanya began banning female students from wearing headscarves to class. Videos shared with NPR show the female students being cordoned outside the Tianya Utsul Elementary School because they refused to comply.

Local Communist Party regulations now ban party members from practicing Islam and call for increased governance of Muslim neighborhoods in Sanya, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese security forces have also been seeding the ranks of local branches of the Islamic Association of China, a state-run body which organizes the only officially permitted hajj pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

One Islamic scholar says his son was approached by Chinese security officers this year, shortly before his son’s promotion as imam of a mosque and membership in the Islamic Association. NPR is not disclosing his name or location because he was detained and questioned after speaking with NPR.

“They offered [him] a full civil servant’s salary and pension for the work and an appointment as board member of a local state company if he secretly worked for them,” the scholar says.

His son refused the offer.

Source: China Targets Muslim Scholars And Writers With Increasingly Harsh Restrictions

Macron wants to fix France’s social ills – but he won’t do it by ‘reforming’ Islam

Good commentary by Art Goldhammer:

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, minced no words in his recent diatribe against his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. “Macron needs mental treatment,” Erdoğan said. This blast from Ankara came in response to Macron’s announcement of a series of measures intended to “reform” the practice of Islam in France and end “Islamic separatism” – proof, to Erdoğan, that Macron had “a problem with Islam”.

Then, just five days later, on 29 October, a newly arrived Tunisian immigrant killed three Christians at prayer in Nice. France had yet again been the victim of “an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron proclaimed. He did not need to remind his countrymen of the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by another immigrant, this one of Chechen descent, in broad daylight two weeks earlier, or of the prior stabbing of two people outside the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The execution of Paty, the murders in Nice, and the Paris stabbings are just the latest in a series of attacks that have claimed the lives of 260 French citizens since 2012. No one can deny that France has a terrorism problem.

Source: Macron wants to fix France’s social ills – but he won’t do it by ‘reforming’ Islam

Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

Of note:

By now, the world knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) have eroded the liberal principles of the Indian Constitution and are turning the country into an increasingly illiberal democracy. It is common knowledge that Mr. Modi thrives on the grievances and bigotries that pit privileged majorities against minorities living in fear.

Less familiar, but much more hopeful, is the response of the main target of this majoritarian assault: India’s Muslim minority — roughly 172 million people who account for just about 14.2 percent of India’s total population of approximately 1.32 billion people, roughly 79.8 percent of whom are Hindu.

This large religious minority of Muslims has gone through a hard time in recent years at the hands of Hindu supremacists: They have faced lynchings, lethal riots, and social and political disenfranchisement.

When minorities are pushed to such walls, they may retreat into a siege mentality that breeds radicalization. But India’s Muslims have not come up with calls for violent jihad, nor chants for Shariah law. Instead, they have embraced and emphasized the blessings of liberal democracy by placing their faith in the Constitution of India and insisting on their constitutional rights as citizens.

This hopeful tack was most visible during the mass protests for three months that started in December against the Citizenship Amendment Act, an unabashedly discriminatory law enacted by the government that fast-tracked citizenship for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants from neighboring countries, but not for Muslims, whom Home Minister Amit Shah tried to dehumanize as “termites.”

Mr. Shah has also proposed a national register of citizens requiring documentary evidence for place of birth and residence that many Indians, especially the poor, lack. Of these the non-Muslims could escape through the loophole in the new Citizenship Amendment Act, but Muslims would find themselves stateless and liable to be put into detention camps.

In response, Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, held a 101-day sit-in against the citizenship law and the proposed citizenship registry, with the protest led not by conservative Muslim clerics, but by Muslim women. Thousands occupied a protest tent 24 hours each day by rotating in shifts and displaying banners saying, “We stand for peace, harmony and fraternity.” They also showed portraits of the Hindu leaders who led India’s independence movement, and festooned their dais with the preamble of the secular Constitution.

The B.J.P.’s propaganda machine depicted Muslim protesters as “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” but they were wearing headbands saying, “I love India.” waving Indian flags, and repeatedly singing the national anthem.

In other campaigns, Indian Muslim women in recent years challenged not just Hindu supremacism but also patriarchy within their own community. Through successful appeals to the Supreme Court — which upholds India’s constitutional principles — they obtained a legal ban in 2017 on “instant divorce,” a contested Shariah ruling that gives Muslim men the right to abandon their wives at will. Another Muslim women’s group gained a 2016 court decision that enforced women’s constitutionally guaranteed right of equal entry, along with men, to a Sufi shrine in Mumbai.

All such liberal moves, according to Sharik Laliwala, a Muslim Indian commentator, signify “a fundamental transformation in the political strategy of the Muslim community.” Indian Muslims, he added, are “marrying a constitutional phraseology of freedom, justice and equality with religious notions.”

Irfan Ahmad, an Indian anthropologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, argues that what is happening is a new emphasis rather than a transformation, which Indian Muslims have always sought along with pluralism. The protests in Shaheen Bagh, he adds, highlighted the rift between the B.J.P.’s rule by and for the Hindu majority and a new vision of democracy that would uphold the rights and dignity of all Indians, including Muslims.

Yet there is still a danger that B.J.P. ruthlessness may backfire and drive Muslims into radicalism. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslim.

All of this means that India is on a very wrong track. A country that does not treat its minorities as equal human beings will be not the world’s biggest democracy, but rather a tyranny of the majority.

The results may be social strife, radicalism, decline of economic progress, and the ruination of India’s image abroad. The country is already being criticized by human rights organizations for violating human rights in Kashmir, and more recently for forcing Amnesty International’s office in India to close.

India’s story could hold lessons for Muslims elsewhere. Across the border, Pakistan long ago established what India’s B.J.P. seeks: an ethno-religious state dominated by the majority. In Pakistan’s case, this means the hegemony of Sunni Muslims at the expense of minorities such as Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis or Christians.

Farther in the East, in Malaysia, Malay-Muslim supremacy has been an official ideology since the founding of the multireligious nation in 1957. In Turkey, the Islam-infused populism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with its own insatiable wrath against “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” has strong parallels with Mr. Modi’s populism. And in the parlance of Islamist movements everywhere, “liberalism” and “secular state” are only dirty words, if not heresies.

Alas, it seems that many Muslims in countries other than India enjoy the tyranny of the majority when they themselves are in the majority and control the state, while others realize the blessings of liberalism if they are in minorities. Of course, such a double standard is neither virtuous nor defensible.

A more principled Muslim view of politics is needed, and for that, Muslim opinion leaders should observe the experience of their coreligionists in India. The latter, the largest religious minority in the world, has an important story with a lesson: Human rights and liberties must be defended in every nation, in every civilization. Without them, only power rules. And instead of betting on power, which may be won or lost, they should try to constrain it everywhere, so that no one group is oppressed and everyone is free.

Mustafa Akyol, a contributing Opinion writer, is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.” Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, is a columnist for The Times of India, and a commentator for India’s television.

If Amy Coney Barrett Were Muslim

Relevant and pertinent thought experiment:

Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has faced immense scrutiny of her religious beliefs, and we need to be vigilant against any religious bias or discrimination.

But I marvel at the hypocrisy of Republicans who are expressing shock and outrage over this, after the way the right has treated Muslims. President Trump responded to the alarm over Judge Barrett’s nomination by accusing Democrats of bias against Catholics and “basically fighting a major religion in our country.” This is rich from the man who is running against Joe Biden, a Catholic; who promoted a Muslim ban; and who told America, “I think Islam hates us.”

On Monday, the first day of the Senate hearings on Judge Barrett’s nomination, Josh Hawley of Missouri accused his Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee of attacking Judge Barrett for being “too Catholic to be on the bench.” He is apparently living in the Twilight Zone, because this didn’t actually happen. Mr. Biden went out of his way to say Judge Barrett’s faith shouldn’t be considered a factor in her hearing.

I can’t help wondering: How would Republicans behave if Judge Barrett were a Democrat whose strongly held religious beliefs came from Islam instead of Catholicism?

We all know how it would go.

Republicans would demand she prove that she was not “working with our enemies.” That’s what Glenn Beck, the conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist, called for when Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to Congress.

They’d probably use her faith to accuse her of hoping to create a “Shariah state” through judicial activism. That what conservative bloggers did in 2011 when Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey nominated Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim originally from India, for a seat on the Superior Court of Passaic County.

If Judge Barrett wore a hijab, Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host, would question whether her religious beliefs were in opposition to the Constitution. That’s the ugly accusation Ms. Pirro levied against Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in 2019.

The scrutiny of Judge Barrett’ connections to the People of Praise religious community — which opposes abortion, gay rights and marriage equality, and which believes that men are leaders of their families — has been intense. It’s fair to debate whether that kind of scrutiny is reasonable, and concerns that Judge Barrett has faced bias because of her religious beliefs are understandable.

What is clear, though, is that if a little-known Muslim group made headlines in connection with the nomination of a justice, Republicans wouldn’t have the same concerns about religious bigotry.

For example, former People of Praise members told The Associated Press that women in the group are expected to obey their husbands and provide sex on demand (the group said in a recent statement that “husbands should not be domineering nor should wives be servile”). If Judge Barrett were Muslim, these former members would probably be invited to appear on “Fox & Friends” to give voice to their concerns about the judge’s regressive stances.

Judge Barrett co-wrote a 1998 law review article about the moral and legal “bind” that death penalty cases might present Catholic judges. What if she had been Muslim and had written about Muslim judges instead? Would Ben Carson call her “schizophrenic?” In 2016, that’s how he described Muslims who embrace American values like democracy and the separation of church and state.

Earlier, in 2015, Mr. Carson wrote in a Facebook post, “I could never support a candidate for president of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Shariah law.”

That happens to be the same year Judge Barrett signed an open letter to Catholic bishops saying, “We give witness that the church’s teachings — on the dignity of the human person and the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman — provide a sure guide to the Christian life, promote women’s flourishing, and serve to protect the poor and most vulnerable among us.”

If she were Muslim and had made these statements, Republicans would no doubt smear her as a woman oppressed by a barbaric Islamic culture that promotes misogyny.

It’s easy to imagine all of this, because it all comes from the playbook that has been used to attack Muslim elected officials, many of whom are in fact archetypes of moderation and secularism compared with Judge Barrett.

I am not critical of Judge Barrett’s nomination because of her Catholicism. I am deeply sensitive to religious bigotry and stereotypes. I’m a practicing Muslim living through an administration that campaigned for a Muslim ban. My community has endured two decades of hazing after the Sept. 11 attacks, and our loyalty is still deemed suspect. I would never wish that kind of judgment on a person of another faith.

Like most Americans, I am worried that Judge Barrett will use her seat to advance an extreme agenda that will be detrimental to the interests of a majority of people in this country. We fear that, if confirmed, she’ll help the religious right drag equal rights and progress back 50 years.

One thing is certain: If the Notre Dame law professor and darling of the religious right were Muslim, she would have had a much harder time becoming a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, a lawyer and a contributing opinion writer.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/opinion/amy-coney-barrett-religion.html

Job or hijab? Singapore debates ban on Islamic veil at work

Contrast between Sikh wearing turbans (male) and prohibiting Muslims wearing hijabs (women) striking:

Every day before she starts her shift at a government hospital in Singapore, Farah removes her hijab – the Islamic veil she has worn since a teenager.

Although minority Muslim women can freely wear the hijab in most settings in Singapore, some professions bar the headscarf and a recent case has triggered fresh debate on diversity and discrimination in the workplace.

Now Farah has joined a growing number of Muslims who account for about 15 per cent of Singapore’s 4 million resident population calling for the ban to end, with an online petition gathering more than 50,000 signatures.

“They told me I can’t work here if I wear the tudung,” said Farah, using the local Malay term for hijab, as she recounts her job interview two years ago for a physiotherapist position.

“I felt a sense of helplessness, it’s unfair. Why has the tudung become a barrier for us to look for jobs?” asked the 27-year-old, who used a pseudonym for fear of reprisals at work.

She accepted the job eventually but has to remove her headscarf whenever she is at work.

Farah’s case is not an oddity.

There was outcry last month when a woman was asked to remove her hijab to work as a promoter at a local department store.

Halimah Yacob, the country’s first female president who herself wears the hijab, said there is “no place” for discrimination when asked her view of the case.

The store reversed its policy, but many took to social media pointing out restrictions remain on wearing the hijab for some civil servants, including policewomen and nurses.

Livelihood

The debate surrounding the hijab is not new in Singapore, a modern city-state which takes pride in its multicultural and multiracial background. The country is predominantly ethnic Chinese, many of whom follow Buddhism or Christianity.

In 2013, then Muslim affairs minister Yaacob Ibrahim said wearing a hijab at the workplace would be “very problematic” for some professions that require a uniform.

The following year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the hijab issue was about “what sort of society do we want to build in Singapore”, according to local media reports.

Singapore’s police force and the health ministry did not respond to repeated requests seeking comment.

Referring to the department store case, Singapore’s president said discrimination in the workplace was “disturbing” as it deprives a person from earning a living.

“People should be assessed solely on their merits and their ability to do a job and nothing else,” Halimah wrote on her Facebook, which attracted more than 500 comments.

“During this Covid-19 period when concerns over jobs and livelihoods are greater, incidents of discrimination exacerbate anxieties and people feel threatened,” she added.

Divided

The hijab has been a divisive issue for Muslims worldwide.

Many Muslim women cover their heads in public as a sign of modesty, although others see it as a sign of female oppression and in West Asian women face jail for eschewing it.

In Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province, women without a headscarf have been censured. In Malaysia, Islamic authorities have probed a book about Muslim women who refuse to wear the hijab.

But women’s rights campaigners in Singapore say they want Muslim women to have freedom of choice.

Such restrictions have hindered women’s job prospects, especially when the coronavirus pandemic has pushed Singapore into recession and companies are laying off, they say.

“Women should be able to practise their religion freely without having to choose between having a job or to practise their religion,” said Filzah Sumartono, a writer who helps run Beyond the Hijab, a website focused on Singapore Muslim women.

“This issue in Singapore is only being faced by Muslim women, it’s a strong discriminatory policy against Muslim women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Identity

Others urge consistency, noting that the turban – headgear worn by Sikh men – is allowed at work in Singapore.

“Why the double standard,” asked Nur, a Muslim law student who signed the petition posted online in June. She requested not to use her full name to protect her privacy.

The 22-year-old said her mother and sister, who work as a nurse and in a private security company respectively, are both banned from wearing a headscarf at work.

She called on officials to explain the restrictions, saying countries such as Britain or Australia have changed tack, with disposable hijabs for nurses to address any hygiene concerns.

“I accept that racial harmony is very fragile, but it’s not just acknowledging these differences exist and live with them. It’s much more than that,” said Nur, a co-founder of Lepak Conversations, an online group.

“It’s about knowing these differences exist, accepting them and embracing these differences.” Filzah of the Beyond the Hijab group said the restrictions can make it more difficult for women to enter the workforce.

“Some women don’t feel comfortable removing a part of their identity just to be able to earn money,” she said.

Source: Job or hijab? Singapore debates ban on Islamic veil at work

Mississauga Hindu temples’ outdoor hymns expose public divide during pandemic

Of note:

Hindu temples across Mississauga have begun broadcasting daily hymns outdoors for believers who are unable to gather in large groups and partake in three major Hindu festivals after the city granted them a noise bylaw exemption.

The exemption mirrors one made for Mississauga mosques in May, so they could broadcast a daily call to prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At the time, a small Hindu group was opposed to the idea, but now say if Muslims are allowed an exemption, they should be too.

In late April, some Mississaugans voiced strong opposition to the city’s exemption for calls to prayer. A Facebook group called “Mississauga Call to Prayer on LoudSpeaker Unconstitutional,” which had 10,445 members on Thursday, was fundraising to pursue legal action against the city over the decision after it was approved.

Canadians United Against Hate released a statement asking city council to uphold the decision, saying many of those who were putting pressure on city hall were “Islamophobic and racist elements in Mississauga.”

The community debate in Mississauga exposes a divide over public space and sounds during a pandemic when people are reluctant to gather indoors.

“Initially we opposed calls for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Rao Yenbamuri, president of Hindu Forum Canada (HFC) – a seven-member Mississauga-based not-for-profit formed in March. A May 2 letter on the group’s website called it “a violation of our secular values.”

“We think that such a precedent would not be practical in a multifaith community, that’s the reason we opposed it,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, adding that despite multiple attempts to communicate with politicians, the decision went forward. “So given these circumstances, we would like the same privileges to be extended to us.”

Amira Elghawaby, a journalist and human-rights advocate who sits on the board of Anti-Hate Network Canada, said many Canadian Muslims face Islamophobia and discrimination under the guise of secularism.

“We see that happening very prominently in Quebec with Bill 21,” she said, referring to a law that prevents many public servants from wearing religious symbols at work, “and we saw it happening in Mississauga and other jurisdictions in the country when the call to prayer was permitted during the month of Ramadan because of the pandemic.”

Ms. Elghawaby also said there was no need “to create us versus them narratives” between both communities.

“I think it’s important to understand that Canada is a country of diversity and diverse raising and diverse backgrounds of people, and all of that is what makes our country strong and rich,” she said. “And we all actually get stronger when our communities are able to fulfill their identities in ways that [are] meaningful to them.”

Kushagr Sharma, a volunteer for Mississauga’s Hindu Heritage Centre, says broadcasting the hymns will help build a sense of connection for many who felt isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of seniors want to come to the temple, just to be there physically but not come inside,” he said.

“So a lot of people would come outside, do their prayers in their cars and leave. But they weren’t able to hear the hymns and the prayers that go on.”

Playing the hymns outdoors also ensures seniors and other vulnerable community members can feel safe, Mr. Sharma said. The temple is not affiliated with HFC and had no prior knowledge of its opposition to broadcasting calls to prayers during the month of Ramadan, he added.

The bylaw exemption allows the temples to broadcast religious hymns every night at 7 p.m., for five minutes, between Aug. 11 and Sept. 1.

Varsha Naik, executive director of the Regional Diversity Roundtable of Peel, and a long-time member of the Interfaith Council of Peel, said all faith communities need places where they feel safe to practise their respective religions.

“We need to ensure that nobody in the community gets isolated,” Ms. Naik said. “And especially with COVID-19, we need to create that sense of community, that sense of celebration.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-mississauga-hindu-temples-play-hymns-outdoors/