On February 13th, 2017 the ABC live-talk show ‘Q&A’ featured an altercation between Muslim activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied (YAM) and Australian Senator Jacqui Lambie regarding sharia law. Lambie stated that Australian authorities should deport all people who supported sharia – this prompted an histrionic outburst from YAM who mentioned that “praying five times a day is sharia”. When Lambie pressed about women’s rights, YAM stated that the oppression of women in Islamic countries was because of “culture”, not faith.
In then perhaps one of the most bizarre comments ever uttered on Australian television, YAM extolled her faith saying “Islam is the most feminist religion”.
This incident has since thrust YAM into the Australian media and political spotlight. One petition has called for her to be sacked from the ABC where she hosts a program. A plethora of news articles have been written – The Australian published an article which revealed that her book-speaking tour of the Middle East at the end of 2016 had been funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
A few days later, YAM sought feedback on Facebook from Islamist organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir, as to how to perform better in public.
Who is this woman? What does she think? I was intrigued by her behaviour and decided to read her memoir, Yassmin’s Story.
The purpose of this paper is to outline different themes from YAM’s memoir and provide a rebuttal to various things she says and comment on things she does not say. I believe she is confused about her identity stemming in part from what she thinks of the West. Moreover, her comments and thoughts about Islam and sharia reveal a shallow understanding.
Please note: lengthy extracts are provided from YAM’s memoir and other texts. This makes the paper long but helps those readers who will not buy YAM’s memoir nor have access to these texts.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF YASSMIN’S STORY
YAM was born in Sudan in 1991 and moved to Brisbane, Australia when she was one and a half years of age. She co-founded Youth Without Borders (YWB), studied engineering and currently hosts a program on the ABC, Australia Wide. In 2015, she was awarded the Young Australian of the Year for Queensland.
The first impression upon reading her memoir was that it is written in the style of a teenager/young adult blog – somewhat self-promoting and naïve with pithy remarks about what she has experienced. One of her pet subjects is “unconscious bias” – not a terribly original topic and even though it appears she hasn’t studied it at an expert level (i.e. leading or conducting scientific experiments), it is the subject of her TED talk ‘What does my headscarf mean to you?’ She tells how she’s worked on an oil rig, done boxing and sailing.
Her comments usually come across as immature and trite. For example, she relates one incident from working on an oil rig:
One afternoon during a typical shift, I went to the rig floor to shoot the breeze with the lads. The topic of conversation was graphic; they were discussing their masturbation habits, particularly crudely. I dithered, and then decided to sit and listen, figuring it was an interesting conversation from an anthropological point of view. I couldn’t leave every single conversation with which I felt uncomfortable, otherwise I’d be walking in and out of chats all day! How else was I going to make mates?
….Later I wondered: did the fact that I sat and listened meant I was implicitly condoning their conversation? What did this say about my character? How was I meant to navigate this? Can I participate in this type of chat with my morals intact? (Abdel-Magied, 2016, pp. 296-297)
One can participate in this kind of talk with their morals intact – after all, it was not like they were discussing who they would like to commit genocide against. It’s bawdy talk on an oil rig with men. YAM admits “casual conversations” are where she found herself “most challenged” at work, but life does consist of having strange, weird and sometimes tense conversations with different people at work, or with family and friends.
After working on an oil rig, she concludes:
…The rigs are the frontline of the ‘picking your battles’ war zone. Sometimes, you have to roll with the punches and kill ‘em with that kindness, and other times you have to put your foot down and channel your inner Beyonce. If anything, this job made me realise that I am proud to be a woman, and being ‘strong’ doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘masculine’. It’s ironic that it took a world renowned for its toughness to make me appreciate my femininity. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 302)
Boring and also obvious – “being ‘strong’ doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘masculine’.” Well, of course not. Why is such a pithy observation worthy of a memoir?
WEARING THE HIJAB, (NOT) EXPLAINING JIHAD
YAM explains she wrote her memoir at such a tender age:
…to share my story, but I am not arrogant enough to believe it is particularly remarkable, or unique. This is not about teaching, as I still have so much to learn….I am grateful to have been involved in a lot of ‘doing’ for someone my age – a healthy 24 years. This book is about some of the doing, but also some of the thinking that lay behind those actions. Hopefully, these stories will add texture and context to a different perspective – the perspective of a young Muslim post 9/11, of a girl who grew up seeing the strong women around her all wearing hijabs and being confused as to why the world was telling her those same women were oppressed. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. ix)
One of her salient themes is that there is nothing wrong with wearing a hijab, something she is proud of and which is an enormous part of her identity, having worn it since the age of ten.
As for her reasoning for wearing the hijab:
From a religious viewpoint, I felt there was an imperative in the scripture to wear the hijab, but not necessarily for the reason that people usually expect (although there are some who will disagree).
When discussing the hijab, it is important to see it as being something for women instead of something for men.
Very often the conversation about the hijab is conducted and controlled by men, in relation to the male gaze, or in some way centred around men and maleness.
Muslim men in particular will say things like ‘women should wear the hijab because otherwise it is a trial for men’, ‘men can’t control themselves’ and so on. Understandably, with men having the conversation, it becomes about the men.
…There is a lot of variation in the interpretation of this verse, but to me what is interesting is why it was revealed. At the time of revelation, women were being harassed in public, and were at risk of being assaulted simply for leaving their houses. The hijab (with the focus not necessarily being on covering the hair but covering the body!) was brought in to allow women to feel more comfortable walking around in their own cities. It was not brought in for men but brought in as a tool to allow the women to participate more in their own societies.
It is also important that we ensure that the language about the hijab doesn’t become one of victim-blaming. If we say wearing the hijab is about modesty (and for some women it is), that is fine.
However, extrapolating that concept and saying that not wearing the hijab is the same as being immodest, and that is somehow linked to the behaviour of men, is excusing men from being civilised and that is not acceptable. The statistics show that clothing and a woman’s attire have no impact on the likelihood of rape and abuse. Misogynist viewpoints are right at the root of such behaviour, and those are what need to be tackle, not the attire of the women in the street.
Why do I continue to wear the hijab?
I’ve been asked this question so many times I barely know what to say anymore. Religious imperatives aside, the hijab is truly part of my identity. It says to the world, I am Muslim and I am proud and I can do anything I damn well please, just you wait. Sometimes, it’s because I feel super close to Allah. Sometimes, it is just my everyday way of sticking it to the man. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, pp. 83-84)
Thus, there’s religious justification (she quotes Koran 33:59) as well as proud reasons for “sticking it to the man”. I would contend most men would find her far more appealing if she didn’t wear the hijab and just stuck it to them with character and charm.
She says the hijab “was brought in to allow women to feel more comfortable walking around in their own cities. It was not brought in for men but brought in as a tool to allow the women to participate more in their own societies.” If that were the case in the 7th century, does that really apply in the 21st century, at least in the West? The emancipation of women throughout the Western world (albeit a relatively recent movement) means they have had unprecedented ability and opportunity to participate and make a difference within society on their own terms as individuals without needing to cover themselves up. Thus, how would a hijab allow a Muslim woman to participate more in society today? If anything, it is more of a hindrance when wanting to do everyday things – play sport, put on a helmet, swim and take a shower.
More importantly, nowhere in her memoir does she acknowledge that in many Muslim-majority nations, many Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab (or even worse, the burka or niqab) where it is used as a tool of control and oppression by men over women. Recently, Iranian chess champion Dorsa Derakhshani was banned from international competition for refusing to wear the hijab as required by Iranian law. Why can’t Derakhshani exercise her right not to wear the hijab without being viewed as treasonous by the Islamic Republic of Iran?
In the early days of wearing her hijab, YAM notes (bold emphasis mine):
The issue of being a target because of my hijab wasn’t something my family had talked about. Being visible was simply part and parcel of practising our faith. Their general attitude was that they wouldn’t let their values be compromised by external factors that they couldn’t control, but this was never explicitly uttered; it was implicit in everything we did. Being visible but remaining true to our faith was our Jihad, our struggle. The world is what it is. When you live for an afterlife, sacrifice and difficulty are easy to understand and justify.
This is at the crux of why, as a Muslim, I will continue to do something that I feel is an expression or requirement of my faith even though it might be uncomfortable in the society I reside in. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 82)
This is one of few times she mentions the word ‘jihad’ which she equates with struggle.
She later reveals she is disappointed with the media since:
The word Jihad was hijacked and turned into a colloquial reference to any violent act committed by a Muslim, instead of its actual meaning: to strive, struggle, persevere, usually in the context of one’s faith, trying to be a good Muslim. Holy War doesn’t exist in the way the media portrays it, but this is difficult to communicate. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 116)
Why is this difficult to communicate? This is your memoir – go for it. Given the opportunity, why not properly explain what this concept means?
The reality is that ‘jihad’ does have a meaning, context and reality within Islamic ideology and Islamic history. Andrew Bostom’s 759-page compendium, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic holy war and the fate of non-Muslims, shows jihad:
…which means “to strive in the path of Allah,” embodied an ideology and a jurisdiction. Both were formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the eighth and ninth centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Qur’anic verses (e.g., 9.5,6; 9.29; 4.76-79; 2.214-15; 8.39-42), and long chapters in the Traditions (i.e., hadith, acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al-Bukhari [d. 869] and Muslim [d. 874]). (Bostom, 2005, pp. 26-27)
Bostom continues (bold emphasis mine):
The consensus on the nature of jihad from all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i) is clear.
Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 996), Maliki jurist:
“Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense other from it. We Malikis [one of the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence] maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them.”
Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328), Hanbali jurist:
“Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g., by propaganda) and acts (e.g., by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).”
From (primarily) the Hanafi school, as given in the Hidayah of Shaikh Burhanuddin Ali of Marghinan (d. 1196):
“It is not lawful to make war upon people who have never before been called to the faith, without previously requiring them to embrace it, because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith, and also because the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war….If the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax, it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.”
Al-Mawardi (d. 1058), Shafi’i jurist:
“The mushrikun [infidels] of Dar al-Harb (the arena of battle) are of two types: First, those whom the call of Islam has reached, but they have refused it and have taken up arms. The amir of the army has the option of fighting them…in accordance with what he judges to be in the best interest of the Muslims and most harmful to the mushrikun…Second, those whom the invitation to Islam has not reached, although such persons are few nowadays since Allah has made manifest the call of his Messenger…it is forbidden to…begin an attack before explaining the invitation to Islam to them, informing them of the miracles of the Prophet and making plain the proofs so as to encourage acceptance on their part; if they still refuse to accept after this, war is waged against them and they are treated as those whom the call has reached.”
Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), Maliki jurist, renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Sunni Muslim jurisprudence with regards to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force….The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense….Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
Finally, Shiite jurisprudence was in agreement with the Sunni consensus on the basic nature of jihad war, as reflected in this excerpt from the Jami-i-Abbasi (the popular Persian manual of Shia law) written by al-Amili (d. 1622), a distinguished theologian under Shah Abbas I: “Islamic Holy war [jihad] against followers of other religions, such as Jews, is required unless they convert to Islam or pay the poll tax.”
By the time of the classical Muslim historian al-Tabari’s death in 923, jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from Portugal to the Indian subcontinent. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as on Christian lands in eastern Europe. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania, as well as parts of Poland and Hungary were also conquered and Islamized. When the Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, more than a millennium of jihad had transpired. These tremendous military successes spawned a triumphalist jihad literature. Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of infidels slain or enslaved, the cities and villages that were pillaged, and the lands, treasure, and movable goods seized. Christian (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, etc), as well as Hebrew sources and even the scant Hindu and Buddhist writings that survived the ravages of the Muslim conquests independently validate this narrative, and complement the Muslim perspective by providing testimonies of the suffering of the non-Muslim victims of jihad wars. (Bostom, 2005, pp. 27-28)
The Legacy of Jihad conclusively demonstrates that ‘jihad’ is not just a general idea of ‘struggle’ but also a holy imperative for Muslims to wage war against unbelievers – this is something Muslims understood and subsequently implemented across the globe. For over a millennium, Muslims conquered and ruled over non-Muslims, imposing the sharia and instituting the system of dhimmitude – I would suggest YAM reads up on dhimmitude as detailed in Bostom but which originated from the work of historian Bat Ye’or. Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the pre-eminent historian of Mughal India, wrote this about dhimmitude, the repressive and humiliating system imposed upon non-Muslims under Islamic rule (bold emphasis mine):
Islamic theology, therefore tells the true believer that his highest duty is to make “exertion (jihad) in the path of God,” by waging war against infidel lands (dar-ul-harb) till they become part of the realm of Islam (dar-ul-Islam) and their populations are converted into true believers. After conquest the entire infidel population becomes theoretically reduced to the status of slaves of the conquering army….The conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form of dissent is the ideal of the Muslim State. If any infidel is suffered to exist in the community, it is as a necessary evil, and for a transitional period only.…A non-Muslim therefore cannot be a citizen of the State; he is a member of a depressed class; his status is a modified form of slavery. He lives under a contract (zimma, or “dhimma”) with the State: for the life and property grudgingly spared to him by the commander of the faithful he must undergo political and social disabilities….In short, his continued existence in the State after the conquest of his country by the Muslims is conditional upon his person and property made subservient to the cause of Islam. (Bostom, 2005, pp. 33-34)
Yet, rather than try and explain what ‘jihad’ means – which YAM has a great opportunity to do – she later says (bold emphasis mine):
There are people in all religious groups who use their faith and a divine decree to justify their violence or vitriol. There is not enough engagement, interaction or even basic knowledge about Islam for the general public to separate violent extremism in the name of political Islam from the peaceful and practical religion that millions of Muslims practise around the world and in Australia. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 67)
Is there really not enough “engagement” or “basic knowledge about Islam” for the general public? YAM doesn’t make an attempt to provide any in her uncensored memoir, apart from sharia which ends up being incredibly dishonest and deceitful (discussed further below). Moreover, if a member of the general public is keen to learn about Islam, they can easily read Islamic texts and educate themselves.
Her distinction of “political Islam” and the “peaceful and practical religion that millions of Muslims practise” is interesting. In Islam, there essentially is no boundary between a private faith and the politics of the state. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the 20th century, said (bold emphasis mine):
The chief characteristic of Islam is that it makes no distinction between the spiritual and the secular in life. Its aim is to shape both individual lives as well as society as a whole in ways that will ensure that the Kingdom of God may really be established on earth and that peace, contentment and well-being may fill the world.
….a group of people or a society which consists of true Muslims can never break away from the Law of their Lord. Its political order, its social organisations, its culture, its economic policy, its legal system and its international strategy must all be in tune with the code of guidance revealed by Allah. Any unwitting contraventions must be corrected as soon as they are realised. It is disbelievers who feel free from God’s guidance and behave as if they were their own master. Anyone who behaves like this, even though he may bear a name similar to that of a Muslim, is treading the path of the disbelievers.
Maududi also explains the difference between “Islamic democracy” and “Western democracy” (bold emphasis mine):
What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy is that while the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty the former rests on the principle of popular Khilafat. In Western democracy the people are sovereign, in Islam sovereignty is vested in God and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own laws; in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (Shari’ah) given by God through His Prophet. In one the Government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people; in the other the Government and the people alike have to do the will of God. Western democracy is a kind of absolute authority which exercises its powers in a free and uncontrolled manner, whereas Islamic democracy is sub-servient to the Divine Law and exercises its authority in accordance with the injunctions of God and within the limits prescribed by Him.
Unlike the secular West (which values and upholds the integrity of the ‘individual’), in an Islamic state, people – viewed as a collective unit – must submit to Allah, the Caliphate and sharia, even if you are non-Muslim. Essentially, the ideas Maududi expounds are totalitarian, akin to Communism.
Another 20th century Islamic philosopher, Sayyid Qutb, wrote in his influential text Milestones (bold emphasis mine):
…Islam came into this world to establish Shari’ah on Allah’s earth, to invite all people toward the worship of Allah, and to make a concrete reality of its message in the form of a Muslim community in which individuals are free from servitude to men and have gathered together under servitude to Allah Almighty and follow only the Shari’ah of Allah. This Islam has a right to remove all those obstacles which are in its path so that it may address human reason and intuition with no interference and opposition from political systems.…Islam is not merely a belief, so that it is enough merely to preach it. Islam, which is a way of life, takes practical steps to organize a movement for freeing man. Other societies do not give it any opportunity to organize its followers according to its own method, and hence it is the duty of Islam to annihilate all such systems, as they are obstacles in the way of universal freedom. Only in this manner can the way of life be wholly dedicated to Allah, so that neither any human authority nor the question of servitude remains, as is the case in all other systems which are based on man’s servitude to man. (Qutb, 2006, pp. 85-86)
One of Qutb’s preoccupations in Milestones is freeing Islam from Jahiliyyahh – the Islamic term for the pre-Islamic age of ignorance. One of the ideas about Islam is that it is the final revelation of God and that it supercedes earlier belief systems; everything before it is considered an age of ignorance since these peoples and societies had not known the revelation of Islam. For Qutb, modernity was nothing more than a new form of Jahiliyyahh, particularly Western thought and influence. Qutb explains (bold emphasis mine):
Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyahh, either in its concept or in the modes of living which are derived from this concept. Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyahh: Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyahh. In this respect Islam’s stand is very clear. It says that the truth is one and cannot be divided; if it is not the truth, then it must be falsehood. The mixing and co-existence of the truth and falsehood is impossible. Command belongs to Allah Almighty, or otherwise to Jahiliyyahh; Allah’s Shari’ah will prevail, or else people’s desires. (Qutb, 2006, pp. 146)
As Qutb says, “Islam is not merely a belief”, “Islam has a right to remove all those obstacles which are in its path”, “Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyahh” and “either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyahh”. Such ideas are not a recipe for long-term peace. As will be seen in a section further below, Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir adopts these same ideas.
YAM believes Islam and sharia can be confined to a private faith – ideally, this would be the desired outcome. However, politically, Islam aims to impose sharia on the House of War (Dar-ul-Harb) i.e. in countries where sharia does not yet rule. This holds drastic consequences for non-Muslims which is why Islamization is increasingly being resisted in Western countries today.
YAM notes spending seven years studying at the Islamic College of Brisbane (ICB):
….in a safe world where my home environment reflected what I saw at school, was vital for my confidence in my identity. Sure, the school was a bubble, but growing up in a bubble of your parents’ choice is not unusual, and this one meant that by the time I left for high school and was launched into a different and far more challenging world, I had a solid foundation in my faith, my language and a belief that my culture was worth something. It made my parents confident that I had inherited and believed in the value system they hold dear. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, pp. 46-47)
In addition, the ICB:
….was just like any other school, aside from the Arabic and Islamic classes three times a week; these were a large part of the reason my parents chose to send me there….Not only did it create a vibrant community with Islamic values, but studying Arabic and Islam there allowed me to learn about my religion in a safe space. These were taught as independent subjects, the same way other schools taught religion or French. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 44)
One would like to know what she learnt about her faith and the history of Islam at the ICB for seven years in this “safe space”. Being in a “safe space” means ideas can become immune from outside criticism. If the ICB is teaching a whitewashed version of Islam’s history and Mohammed to its students, it is doing them a grave injustice.
Another reason YAM gives for wearing the hijab:
I had been thinking about what I’d seen on the news about Muslims….especially women who wore the hijab…Then I remembered why I was doing this. I wanted to please Allah. This was for a higher purpose, right? I remember thinking, If Allah is making this hard, I’ll get extra brownie points. The hijab was a part of me now. My identity had become Yassmin, the loud academic kid who wore the hijab….I had become accustomed to the associated biases, ready at any moment to explain not all Muslims were terrorists. I had adjusted to people assuming I was an expert in my faith, explaining polygamy, the oppression of women and the meaning of Halal food, all at the wise old age of eleven. My lived experience no longer included the freedom and naivety of a young child, not because of the hijab, but because of what it seemed to say to people. There was no going back. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 98)
She is “ready at any moment to explain not all Muslims were terrorists” – any self-respecting person knows this already. Of course not all Muslims are terrorists however the fact remains that we do not need all Muslims to become terrorists before we can say there is a problem. Since September 11, 2001 there have been over 30,000 jihad terror attacks. Citing such a statistic may be “Islamophobic” to someone like YAM, however, we can understand such events based on Islam’s sacred texts and Muslims’ own expressed words and actions. More and more people are beginning to see the stark difference between “Islamophobia” and Islamo-reality.
Because of this correlation over the past decade and a half, it is a natural question to ask: what is it about Islam that promotes and inspires violence? This is the vital point YAM does not understand and may never do unless she confronts what she believes. The reality is that the sacred Islamic canon – Koran, Hadith, the Sunna (example) of Mohammed and classical Islamic scholars/commentaries – legitimise violence.
Danish linguist Tina Magaard spent years analysing the original texts of different religions – her conclusion was that Islam’s texts were far worse, compared with other religions, for encouraging violence and terrorism.
Magaard pertinently notes (bold emphasis mine):
What is striking is not in itself that one can find murderous passages in the Islamic texts, as such passages can also be found in other religions. But it is striking how much space these passages takes up in the Islamic texts and how much they focus on a them-and-us-logic where infidels and apostates are characterized as dirty, rotten, criminal, hypocritical and dangerous. It is also striking how much these texts demand the reader to fight the infidels, both with the words and the sword. In many passages Mohammed plays a central role as one who encourages the use of violence, whether it comes to stonings, beheadings, acts of war or execution of critics and poets. (Magaard, 2015)
I wonder if YAM will get to these sections in the Islamic texts soon where she can enjoy the “nuance” of the Arabic language when it prescribes believers to:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth even if they are the people of the book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Koran 9:29)
DOES YASSMIN KNOW WHAT SHARIA IS?
As prominent ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq (2006) notes, sharia is based on four principles:
· The Koran
· The Sunna of Mohammed (i.e. the ‘example’ of the prophet, which is recognised in the traditions known as the Hadith – these are the putative words and deeds of Mohammed recorded by some of the earliest pious Muslims)
· The consensus (ijma) of the scholars of the orthodox community
· The method of reasoning by analogy (qiyas)
YAM’s summary of what sharia is based on effectively covers these points however, this explanation is misleading (bold emphasis mine):
The five objectives of Sharia are protection of life, mind, religion, property and offspring; rulings in Sharia law are based around the protection and promotion of these areas. Logically, decisions that lead to their degradation are considered fundamentally unIslamic. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, Pg. 9)
Theoretically, that final sentence sounds reasonable but it raises an important question: who or what decides if something is “Islamic” or not? The list above (Koran, Sunna, Hadith etc) is really the best guide to determine this, not necessarily if “degradation” occurs. Often it is Mohammed himself who determines what is “Islamic” – as the prophet, he is the supreme example for all Muslims to emulate. Consequently, degradation of life/mind/religion etc can occur because of the example of Mohammed himself. The two following examples – underage marriage and apostasy – will help illustrate.
(Please note: in my opinion, the line – “decisions that lead to their degradation are considered fundamentally unIslamic” – conveniently allows YAM to avoid dealing with the ugly issues for Muslims from a religious perspective. For example, when Lambie asked why so many Muslim women are mistreated and killed, YAM thinks such “degradation” occurs because of “culture”, “economic circumstances” or “the patriarchy” – she will never say it is because of Islam. It is a nifty get-out-of-jail-free card.)
First, sharia allows for underage marriage. As contained in one of the most reliable hadith collections within the canon of Islam (Sahih al-Bukhari):
Narrated by ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64)
Narrated by ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that ‘Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death).” What you know of the Quran (by heart)’.
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 65)
Narrated by ‘Ursa: The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with ‘Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88)
Aisha was Mohammed’s favourite wife – according to Islamic sources, Mohammed married her when she was six and “consummated” the marriage with her when she was nine. One could say that underage marriage may have been commonplace for 7th century Arabian men and so Mohammed did what his contemporaries did.
Personally, for a “founder” of a religion, I expect such a person to be highly evolved, spiritual and enlightened (e.g. Jesus Christ / Buddha) who would never even contemplate this act.
Nevertheless, the disturbing fact remains that many young Muslim children today are held captive by Mohammed’s example from the 7th century – many Muslim men believe child marriage is permitted precisely because of the Sunna of Mohammed. Unfortunately, imitating Mohammed’s 7th century behaviour in the 21st century means paedophilia is committed.
It goes without saying that not all Muslim men today marry an underage girl. However, that does not negate the fact that it is allowed within Islam because of Mohammed’s example. Hugh Fitzgerald notes:
…child marriages in Islamic societies have been accepted because of Aisha’s example, though not everywhere is a child bride as young as nine been allowed. When the Ayatollah Khomeini was alive, he reduced the age at which a girl could be married to nine, but now it has been raised to 13, which is still quite young….child brides – around age 15 – are allowed in several Muslim countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. And….the most disturbing example of the effect of Aisha’s marriage, which is in Saudi Arabia, where the Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh announced in 2014 that there would be no minimum age for child brides, which is still the rule. There was even a case of an 8-year-old forced by a court to stay married to a man in his 50s. Muhammad’s marriage has thus had consequences for tens of millions of Muslim girls over 1400 years. (Fitzgerald, 2017)
Furthermore, child marriage has never been whole-heartedly condemned and rejected by mainstream Islamic religious authorities.
Second, sharia’s apostasy law allows for the killing of Muslims who leave Islam. Again, as contained in the hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari (bold emphasis mine):
Narrated by ‘Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’”
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57)
This is still the position of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi’ite. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most renowned and prominent Muslim cleric in the world, has stated (bold emphasis mine):
The Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-‘ashriyyah, Al-Ja’fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.
The apostasy law is also stated in ‘Umdat al-Salik (‘The Reliance of the Traveller’), a manual of Islamic law compiled in the 14th century. In the chapter on “Justice”, it elucidates on “Apostasy from Islam (Ridda)” (bold emphasis mine):
Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst….When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostasizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed. In such a case, it is obligatory…to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed. (‘Umdat al-Salik, O8.0, 8.1, 8.2)
Furthermore, the effect of sharia’s apostasy law is an ever-present threat in today’s world from Muslims motivated to enforce it. A well-known recent example is Magdi Allam, an apostate from Islam who converted to Christianity and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Because of death threats from groups like Hamas, Allam requires round-the-clock security protection.
In conclusion, although YAM said sharia “decisions that lead to their degradation [of life, mind, religion etc] are considered fundamentally unIslamic”, the above examples prove the opposite is true: sharia decisions on child marriage and apostasy, which lead to the paedophilia of children and the death of those who leave Islam respectively, are Islamic because of the example of Mohammed.
In 2014, YAM wrote an article (included in her memoir) that engaged in historical invention by arguing that Western “colonisation” changed sharia into the nefarious thing witnessed today (bold emphasis mine):
The advent of modern colonisation, starting with the British East India Company (EIC) and the Dutch entering India and Indonesia in the late 16th and 17th Centuries, would eventually lead to some pretty drastic changes in how Sharia was practised and understood. With the arrival of the colonisers in predominantly Islamic communities came the concept of the nation-state – and with it, codifying (translating and writing down) laws. The colonisers viewed Islam as a threat to the system and civilisation they understood, and began thoroughly remodelling Islamic legal systems.
Started by the Governor of Bengal Warren Hastings in the 1770s and followed by the Dutch in the 1880s, western powers began separate projects to translate, write down and convert the Sharia – as they understood it – into written law. In doing so they turned Sharia’s fluidity rigid, and hollowed out the interpretive core that Sharia law depended on. Islamic law became unable to do what it needed to do to function.
What’s more, this process actually wound back progressive aspects of Islamic law to conservative Western standards. Sharia and Islamic law had bestowed women with rights and privileges that were advanced and equalising; when the laws were translated into colonising languages, those nuances were removed and the patriarchal colonising culture prevailed, writing the rights women had enjoyed under Sharia out of the system entirely. The “Sharia” notion that a man is the head of the family to be obeyed without question was a post-colonial inclusion that completely changed the original intention of the Islamic ruling, and Governor Hastings, along with his counterpart Governor-General of India Charles Cornwallis, felt like Islamic law allowed criminals to escape punishment too easily, complaining that Sharia was “founded on the most lenient principles and on an abhorrence of bloodshed”.
Given Islamic law’s current reputation, this is kind of ironic. (Abdel-Magied, 2014)
It is extremely revealing YAM provides no references or sources in either her online article or memoir to argue these points – I challenge her to provide these.
Arthur Chrenkoff neatly refutes the idea that colonialism changed sharia:
…the supposedly nefarious influence of the British and Dutch colonisers only really applies to the Dutch East Indies and British India, or what is now Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These are essentially the countries of eastern Islam, away from the Arab heart of ummah. Ironically, with the exception of Pakistan, these are today reasonably liberal Islamic polities, which kind of defeats her argument. Deobandi, the most conservative and hard-line school or popular movement of Islam in South Asia, was actually a reaction against the British colonialism, seen as corrupting the pure Islam. Deobandis can be seen as the Wahhabis of the sub-continent – these are the people whose madrassas gave us the Taliban and the whole host of other Islamist extremist groups throughout the region.
And what about everywhere else? Turkey was never colonised by anyone; neither was Saudi Arabia (except by Turkey). Neither was Persia/Iran, or Afghanistan in any meaningful sense. Egypt wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century, and the countries of the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, Syria) as well as Jordan and Iraq not until the aftermath of the First World War. How is the fact that women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia today somehow the fault of Warren Hastings in India in the eighteenth century? Indeed, what is the European legal contribution to the Wahhabism, which poisons Islam throughout the region and, thanks to the Saudi petro-money, the rest of the world? (Chrenkoff, 2017)
Moreover, the following was perhaps her worst falsification about sharia (bold emphasis mine):
Well, things like the idea that ‘Sharia law’ says the man is the head of the family to be obeyed without question was actually drawn from biblical sources and added after colonisation, completely changing the original intent of the Islamic ruling. ‘For a husband is the head of the wife.’ [Ephesians 5:23] (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 72)
Biblical sources! Those nasty, Western, Bible-bashing colonisers tainting Islam’s “nuanced” sharia! In other words, according to YAM, the reason Muslim men treat Muslim women badly today is because of Ephesians 5:23 from the Bible. Again, I challenge YAM to provide evidence how this biblical verse contaminated sharia’s rulings. Throwing in this verse without any references or sources is effectively inventing history.
Regarding male-female relations in Islam, what would YAM think about Koran 4:34 which was “revealed” to Mohammed about a thousand years earlier? Please note: multiple translations are provided to illustrate the nuances of the Arabic language:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret what Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great. (Pickthall)
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme. (Dawood)
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whom part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance) for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all). (Yusuf Ali)
Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. (M.H. Shakir)
For all the “nuances” snuffed out of sharia by British and Dutch colonisers, surely these could have been reinstated by Islamic scholars in the post-colonial era? Or is that too difficult to do and hence YAM can use that as an excuse for continuing to blame the West?
YAM also defeats her argument citing British colonialism in India – centuries prior to this, India had been subject to several Islamic invasions and conquests by Muslims. The following historical excerpts illustrate the dehumanising effect that sharia had over the Hindus.
Historian A.L. Srivastava highlights the effect of Islamic jihad and sharia on Hindus during the Delhi Sultanate period (1206-1526):
Throughout the period of the Sultanate of Delhi, Islam was the religion of the State. It was considered to be the duty of the Sultan and his government to defend and uphold the principles of this religion and to propagate them among the masses…even the most enlightened among them [the Sultans], like Muhammad bin Tughlaq, upheld the principles of their faith and refused permission to repair Hindu (or Buddhist) temples…Thus even during the reign of the so-called liberal-minded Sultans, the Hindus had no permission to build new temples or to repair old ones. Throughout the period, they were known as dhimmis, that is, people living under guarantee, and the guarantee was that they would enjoy restricted freedom in following their religion if they paid the jizya. The dhimmis were not to celebrate their religious rites openly…and never to do any propaganda on behalf of their religion. A number of disabilities were imposed upon them in matters of State employment and enjoyment of civic rights….It was a practice with the Sultans to destroy the Hindu temples and images therein. Firoz Tghlaq and Sikander Lodi prohibited Hindus from bathing at the ghats [river bank steps for ritual bathers] in the sacred rivers, and encouraged them in every possible way to embrace the Muslim religion. The converts were exempted from the jizya and given posts in the State service and even granted rewards in cash, or by grant of land. In short, there was not only no real freedom for the Hindus to follow their religion, but the state followed a policy of intolerance and persecution. The contemporary Muslim chronicles abound in detailed descriptions of desecration of images and destruction of temples and of the conversion of hundreds and thousands of the Hindus. [Hindu] religious buildings and places bear witness to the iconoclastic zeal of the Sultans and their followers. One has only to visit Ajmer, Mathura, Ayodhya, Banaras and other holy cities to see the half broken temples and images of those times with their heads, faces, hands and feet defaced and demolished. (Srivastava, Sultanate of Delhi, pp. 304-305)
Furthermore, historian R.C. Majumdar sees a continuum between the Delhi Sultanate and the subsequent Mughal Empire regarding the status of the Hindus:
So far as the Hindus were concerned, there was no improvement either in their material or moral conditions or in their relations with the Muslims. With the sole exception of Akbar, who sought to conciliate the Hindus by removing some of the glaring evils to which they were subjected, almost all other Mughal Emperors were notorious for the religious bigotry. The Muslim law which imposed many disabilities and indignities upon the Hindus…and thereby definitely gave them an inferior social and political status, as compared to the Muslims, was followed by these Mughal Emperors (and other Muslims rulers) with as much zeal as was displayed by their predecessors, the Sultans of Delhi. The climax was reached during the reign of Aurangzeb, who deliberately pursued the policy of destroying and desecrating Hindu temples and idols with a thoroughness unknown before or since. (Majumdar, The Mughal Empire, p. xi)
Ziauddin Barani (c. 1285-1357) was a Muslim historian and writer on government under the Delhi Sultanate. One of his major works (Fatawa-i-Jahandari) attempts to educate the sultans in their duty towards Islam – the following excerpt shows Muslim disdain for Hindus, how Muslims must wage jihad against them and establish “the laws of the shari’at”:
The Muslim king will not be able to establish the honour of theism (tauhid) and the supremacy of the Islam unless he strives with all his courage to overthrow infidelity and to slaughter its leaders (imams), who in India are the Brahmans. He should make a firm resolve to overpower, capture, enslave and degrade the infidels….Sons of Mahmud and kings of Islam! You should with all your royal determination apply yourself to uprooting and disgracing infidels, polytheists, and men of bad dogmas and bad religions.…You should consider the enemies of God and His Faith to be your enemies and you should risk your power and authority in overthrowing them, so that you may win the approval of God and the Prophet Mohammad and of all prophets and saints….The majority of religious scholars and wise men of early (Islamic) as well as later time have been sure that if Muslim kings strive with all their might and power and the power of all their supporters on this path, the following objects will be attained: – the true Faith will gain a proper ascendancy over the false creeds; the True Word will be honoured; the traditions of infidelity and polytheism will be weakened; Musalmans will be favoured and honoured; infidels and men of bad faith will be faced with destitution and disgrace; the orders of the unlawful state and the opposed creeds will be erased; the laws of the shari’at will be enforced on the seventy-two communities; and the enemies of God and the Prophet will be condemned, banished, repudiated, and terrorised. (Barani, Fatawa-i-Jahandari in Habib, The Political Theory of the Delhi Sultanate, pp. 46-47)
Interestingly, in stark contrast to YAM’s thoughts on British colonialism, Majumdar remarks about Hindu cultural advancement under the lengthy period of Muslim colonial rule compared with the much shorter interval of British colonialism (bold emphasis mine):
Judged by a similar standard, the patronage and cultivation of Hindu learning by the Muslims, or their contribution to the development of Hindu culture during their rule…pales into insignificance when compared with the achievements of the British rule….It is only by instituting such comparison that we can make an objective study of the condition of the Hindus under Muslim rule, and view it in its true perspective. (Majumdar, The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 6: The Delhi Sultanate, p. 623)
Of course, British colonialism didn’t come without suffering. However, Majumdar’s excerpt shows the British deserve far more credit than commonly thought.
British colonialism did not change sharia as YAM incorrectly asserts. The idea that it is the culprit for sharia’s current malaise is also ludicrous – proof this malaise already existed can be seen from one of the key manuals on Islamic law ‘Umdat al-Salik (‘The Reliance of the Traveller’) which YAM has probably never examined. This was compiled in the 14th century by Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri. In 1991, this manual (translated into English by a Muslim) was certified by the most important learning institution within Sunni Islam – the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, established in 970 AD.
The manual covers many aspects of a Muslim’s life they should follow, including prayer, personal hygiene, zakat, pilgrimage, trade, inheritance, marriage, divorce and justice.
I read the manual recently. The parts on prayer and hygiene are innocent enough yet contain a laborious number of rules which make performing these basic activities incredibly tedious. Albeit, prayer and hygiene is something Muslims keep to themselves and doesn’t concern non-believers that much.
However, it is the many other rulings that are obscene and in many cases, anti-life. Most speak for themselves so I’ve just listed them below (bold emphasis mine):
|M8.2||A guardian may not marry his prepubescent daughter to someone for less than the amount typically received as marriage payment by similar brides, nor marry his prepubescent son to a female who is given more than the amount typically received. If he does either of these, the amount stipulated is void and the amount typically received is paid instead.|
(Permitting One’s Wife to Leave the House)
|A husband may permit his wife to leave the house for a lesson in Sacred Law, for invocation of Allah (dhikr), to see her female friends, or to go to any place in the town. A woman may not leave the city without her husband or a member of her unmarriageable kin accompanying her, unless the journey is obligatory, like the hajj. It is unlawful for her to travel otherwise, and unlawful for her husband to allow her to.|
|M10.4||The husband may forbid his wife to leave the home (because of the hadith related by Bayhaqi that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said “it is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to allow someone into her husband’s house if he is opposed, or to go out if he is averse”). But if one of her relatives dies, it is preferable to let her leave to visit them|
(Dealing with a rebellious wife)
|When a husband notices signs of rebelliousness in his wife whether in words as when she answers him coldly when she used to do so politely, or he asks her to come to bed and she refuses, contrary to her usual habit; or whether in acts, as when he finds her averse to him when she was previously kind and cheerful, he warns her in words without keeping from her or hitting her, for it may be that she has an excuse.
(The Conditions that Entitle a Wife to Support)
|The husband is only obliged to support his wife when she gives herself to him or offers to, meaning she allows him full enjoyment of her person and does not refuse him sex at any time of the night or day. She is not entitled to support from her husband when:
-1- she is rebellious (meaning when she does not obey him) even if for a moment;
-2- she travels without his permission, or with his permission but for one of her own needs;
-3- she assumes ihram for hajj of `umra
-4- or when she performs a voluntary fast without her husband’s permission (though if he allows her to fast and does not ask her to break it, he must provide her support)
(Who is Subject to Subject to Retaliation for Injurious Crimes)
|The following are not subject to retaliation:
-1- a child or insane person, under any circumstances (whether Muslim or non-Muslim. The ruling for a person intermittently insane is that he is considered as a sane person when in his right mind, and as if someone continuously insane when in an interval of insanity. If someone against whom retaliation is obligatory subsequently becomes insane, the full penalty is nevertheless exacted. A homicide committed by someone who is drunk is (A: considered the same as that of a sane person,) like his pronouncing divorce (dis: n1.2));
-2- a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim;
-3- a Jewish or Christian subject of the Islamic state for killing an apostate from Islam (because a subject of the state is under its protection, while killing an apostate from Islam is without consequences);
-4- a father or mother (or their fathers of mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring;
-5- nor is retaliation permissible to a descendant for (his ancestor’s) killing someone whose death would otherwise entitle the descendant to retaliate, such as when his father kills his mother.
|O8.0 / 8.1 / 8.2
(Apostasy from Islam [Ridda])
|Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst….When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostasizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed. In such a case, it is obligatory…to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.|
|O11.4 / 11.5
(The Non-Muslim Poll Tax)
|The minimum non-Muslim poll tax is one dinar (4.235 grams of gold) per person (per year). The maximum is whatever both sides agree upon. It is collected with leniency and politeness, as are all debts, and is not levied on women, children, or the insane.
Such non-Muslim subjects are obliged to comply with Islamic rules that pertain to the safety and indemnity of life, reputation, and property. In addition, they:
-1- are penalized for committing adultery or theft, though not for drunkenness;
-2- are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar);
-3- are not greeted with “as-Salamu ‘alaykum”;
-4- must keep to the side of the street;
-5- may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed;
-6- are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, (to ring church bells or display crosses) recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays;
-7- and are forbidden to build new churches
|O12.1 / 12.2
(The Penalty for Fornication or Sodomy)
|The legal penalty is obligatorily imposed upon anyone who fornicates or commits sodomy when they:
(a) have reached puberty;
(b) are sane;
(c) and commit the act voluntarily;
no matter whether the person is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam.
If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death, someone with the capacity to remain chaste meaning anyone who has had sexual intercourse (at least once) with their spouse in a valid marriage, and is free, of age, and sane. A person is not considered to have the capacity to remain chaste if he or she has only had intercourse in a marriage that is invalid, or is prepubescent at the time of material intercourse, or is someone insane at the time of marital intercourse who subsequently regains their sanity prior to committing adultery.
If the offender is not someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then the penalty consists of being scourged one hundred stripes and banished to a distance of at least 81 km./50 mi. for one year.
(The Penalty for Theft)
|A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam, when he:
(a) has reached puberty;
(b) is sane;
(c) is acting voluntarily;
(d) and steals at least a quarter of a dinar (n: 1.058 grams of gold) or goods worth that much (at the market price current) at the time of the theft:
(e) from a place meeting the security requirements normal (in that locality and time for safeguarding similar articles;
(f) provided there is no possible confusion as to whether he took it by way of theft or for some other reason.
If a person steals a second time, his left foot is amputated; if a third time, then his left hand; and if he steals again, then his right foot. If he steals a fifth time, he is disciplined. If he does not have a right hand (at the first offense), then his left foot is amputated. If he has a right hand but loses it after the theft (by an act of God) but before he has been punished for it, then nothing is amputated. After amputation, the limb is cauterized with hot oil (which in previous times was the means to stop the bleeding and save the criminal’s life).
There is more but you probably get the message.
Only YAM can answer why she is unaware of the above. These are easily available for anyone remotely interested in this topic. As a Muslim, if she does know them but still continues to support sharia, she is deceitful. If she doesn’t know them, then she is ignorant.
One final remark from YAM’s memoir, which she emphasised on Q&A: she mistakenly believes sharia is compatible and even the same as Australian law (bold emphasis mine):
The rules that govern society are generally what come to mind when Sharia is referred to in the media. One of the main rules of this part of Sharia law is that Muslims must follow the laws of the land they are in, regardless of who is governing. So by following the law of Australia, for example, Muslims are following Sharia law. Muslims aren’t seeking to ‘impose’ Sharia in Australia – they’re living and practising it already, despite inflammatory and inaccurate depictions to the contrary. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 71)
“…by following the law of Australia…Muslims are following Sharia law”.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume this is correct.
Two pages later she states (bold emphasis mine):
Sharia law may sound foreign, especially if you don’t know much about it, but it doesn’t need to be feared. At its essence, it’s about finding a way to live a good life, and by practising as Muslims (praying, fasting, eating good kebabs), millions of people around the world are following Islamic law without coming into conflict with the law of the land. Muslims are well accommodated in the current legal system and there is no reason why this should change. Fear-mongering about Sharia law and portraying it as a ‘threat’ to Australian society serves only to bolster the damaging and dangerous ‘us and them’ narrative, ultimately helping no one but terrorists. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, p. 73)
“…millions of people…are following Islamic law without coming into conflict with the law of the land.”
This contradicts the former excerpt and shows there is a difference between the two.
This makes sense: Australia’s legal system is an inheritance from British common law. Laws are man-made (i.e. not based on any religious, divine principles) and changeable. Sharia derives from Islamic religious sources e.g. the Koran (the ‘eternal’, ‘unchanging’ word of God) and the example of Mohammed (God’s only messenger and the most perfect Muslim). Also, sharia is meant to be unchangeable. Therefore, there is never any way sharia, a legal code based on Islamic religious principles, can ever be equal to secular, democratic law. This has rarely, if ever, been witnessed in history.
The above reminded me of Tariq Ramadan – the Swiss-Moroccan Islamic “philosopher” who is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. As Ibn Warraq noted, Ramadan once said he:
…claims that he accepts the law in Western democracies – so long as the law “does not force me to do something in contradiction with my religion.” (Warraq, 2008)
Hence, even Ramadan – an Islamic “reformer” and “philosopher” – sees a difference between Western democratic laws and sharia when the former forces him to do something that contradicts the latter. If this is the best a “reformer” believes then most non-Muslims would understandably be discouraged and wonder how many more Muslims who live in Western democracies think and act the same.
Finally, YAM notes Muslims “are well accommodated in the current legal system”. Why shouldn’t they be? After all, Australian law applies to all people, regardless of who they are. That is one of the treasures inherited from English common law which has had over 800 years of evolution since Magna Carta.
With regards to Ramadan’s line of thinking, he basically says it is alright for Muslims to follow Western democratic laws if they agree with sharia. Yet, if they do not, would he believe that Western democratic laws need to “accommodate” sharia so Muslims continue to feel welcome in a secular democratic, legal system? If this were to occur, then over time Western democratic laws will become increasingly sharia-compliant in favour of Muslims and to the demise of non-Muslims.
YAM’s confusing and contradictory statements on this topic leave us unsure where she sits.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WEST
In a recent article, psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed perfectly highlighted YAM’s denial of reality about certain aspects of Islam (bold emphasis mine):
I found it interesting that in the ABC’s Q&A episode a couple of weeks back, when Yassmin Abdel-Magied had a histrionic spat with Jacqui Lambie, she said ‘For me, Islam is one of the most feminist religions.’…
…It is the ‘for me’ part of her statement that is particularly interesting. The preface is a great example of how Muslim identity becomes the pre-eminent marker of a new generation of Muslims growing up in the West. Their way of expressing themselves is highly Western in that it is all about their unique, individual selves. This is referred to as religiosity. It’s different to religion, which could be considered as a more coherent set of beliefs, managed by professional overseers of the knowledge.
Not unlike terrorists who use the trappings of modern technology and civic freedoms to conduct attacks, many Muslims co-opt the freedoms and privileges they enjoy in the West, but convince themselves such luxuries are also ‘Islamic’. This helps shield them from the foundations of the Enlightenment as the true source of their standard of living and allows them to maintain anti-Western stances couched in grievance. Their public utterances, while usually discreet, are windows into their ambivalent relationships with Western societies.
Meanwhile, like Yassmin, they can brush off the human rights abuses against women and minorities across the Muslim world as cultural stains not consistent with their own enlightened understanding of Islam.
…A key danger to our societies is when Muslims begin thinking of themselves as Muslims, first and foremost. In doing so, they can argue they are acting according to Islamic teachings, which urge Muslims to give precedence to the ummah, or the global Islamic community. They are also very much in keeping with trends in identity politics which allow them to seek privileges in the public space.
…The key moderate voices of Islam all argue that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, that racism and Western foreign policy are the roots of Islamic grievances and those who disagree are fringe conservatives. Yassmin is a media creation of such trends, someone embraced and promoted enthusiastically by the cultural and media institutions of the Left. It is embarrassing that her views appear to be either denial of, or appeasement of, the most uncomfortable aspects of Islam.
It is reasonable we continue to help the forces of moderate Islam internationally in Islamic countries. But my view….is that our governments are making a mistake engaging people of Muslim backgrounds as Muslim at all. It only encourages them to think of themselves of Muslims first and foremost because that’s the way the broader populace see them anyway. Is there any wonder that Islamic schools are the fastest growing sector of independent schools?
Yes, engage them primarily as Australian citizens, which we are doing. But don’t be afraid of paying lip service to the Muslim bit and bypassing so called Islamic community leaders of all kinds in the process. Even promoting their cultural heritage is not unreasonable. People still need to integrate their past with being an Australian, and doing so via their cultural heritage is healthier than elevating the Muslim-ness. The religious identity takes precedence because they feel neither connected to their ethnic heritage nor the mainstream.
Polls across the Western world suggest populations have made up their mind to severely limit Islamic immigration. This may be irrational to some extent, particularly with regards to skilled migrants, but they don’t care. They have seen enough and the latest fiasco, expressed via the millennial, handkerchief glamour of Miss Abdel-Magied, underlines how even the shiniest faces of moderate Islam have little interest or ability in confronting the darkest aspects of the religion. (Ahmed, 2017)
Part of the reason for YAM’s confused identity is because of her ambivalent relationship with the West. In her memoir, several times she praises the West as does her parents. Yet, on many other occasions, she sees being “Western” as something troublesome with the idea she has been “corrupted”. What does this mean? Does she feel she has been “corrupted” away from Islam? (she asks this on page 326). Quotes below (all bold emphasis mine):
|pp. 40-41||For some kids though, their attitudes were inherited from their parents who did not yet feel ‘Australian’ and so their country of origin was the nationality they identified with the most. For those kids, being Australian was seen as being ‘Western’ and ‘copping out’. This was mainly in response to the foreign policy of various Western nations at the time, particularly the USA. It was a sentiment that would start to show itself more as the years went on, but not one that interrupted my space in a conscious manner – not until the events of 2001.|
|Pg. 99||My father’s attitude towards the West reflects the pain of historical wrongdoing coupled with a desire for progress. On one hand, he appreciates that the West has helped the human race advance in many areas; after all, we moved here to take advantage of that development and safety. On the other hand, the West has also been responsible for so much hurt and historically has had such little regards for other civilisations, yet continues to act like it is morally superior. The hypocrisy of that grates. That superiority is linked to the idea that the West does not want to accept there are other ways of being. Western culture also prioritises the individual over the communal, and this is something my father could never abide. The discussion about these issues and value systems is so important to our family because my parents had a real and well-founded fear of their children losing connection with their culture and the religion we all believe in.|
|Pg. 134||My mum saw dating as a gateway activity; she was vehemently against the idea of me doing things like going to the cinema, particularly if we were going in a mixed group with any of the boys from high school….I did have a crush on one of the boys who was going to the movies that night. My mother was adamantly opposed to activities that weren’t aligned with our values, like tight clothes or boyfriends, and I felt like a hypocrite for having allowed some of those things into my life, and ashamed for not admitting it to her – or myself.|
|pp. 138-140||When I graduated from uni, my mother sat me down and informed me that I was no longer able to hang out with my male friends one-on-one because members of the Muslim communities would assume we were in a relationship, and an illegitimate one at that. According to Mum, it was inappropriate now that I no longer had the excuse of university work. If I was seen to be with different men all the time, particularly at night, it would ruin my reputation.
I was infuriated at the insinuation and the expectation that I was going to abandon the lifestyle I had established and that I loved….I was enraged for weeks…I knew Mama was attempting to protect me from the reality that people would point to my behaviour as evidence that the West had corrupted me. That in training to be an engineer and an activist I had lost my Islamic values….
Muslim communities as well as societies in general need to challenge the idea that a woman’s worth is based on her ‘appropriateness’. Until then, I do what I feel is comfortable and hope that, Inshallah, Allah sees my intentions fit within an Islamic framework. After all, that is the framework to which I am held to account.
|Pg. 238||Different people have different capacities for charitable thought and in the West, caring about each other is seen by many as a luxury and not the standard expectation. This is one of the reasons a cousin of mine said she would never live in Australia after she had spent a few months visiting here. She said, ‘It seems like no one cares about anyone else at all in this country.’|
|Pg. 278||This was an opportunity to rekindle a relationship with my extended family and immerse myself in the language that would have been my mother tongue. This trip wasn’t just about hanging with my cousins; this was about connecting to my roots, my parent culture, and proving to my father that I hadn’t become too Western. It was the Muslim-girl equivalent of finding yourself backpacking around South America.|
|pp. 280-283||When I asked them why they didn’t get involved in community projects like YWB in Sudan, one cousin’s perspective shed some light on how they viewed this kind of work:
‘It’s so cool that you’re travelling and doing all this stuff, Yassmina, but that’s your world. We have accepted our world and how we operate in it, and it’s not as bad as you think! We know the role we have to play to be a good woman, a good wife, a good Sudanese person and a good Muslim, so we do that. We don’t want to make our lives harder by looking for things that we don’t really need.’
My cousin saw my involvement in advocacy as something that also challenged accepted gender roles in society, and that wasn’t something she was interested in; her perspective was to accept her lot in life and just enjoy it within its limits. I didn’t know how to feel about that, or if I was even allowed an opinion. It may frustrate me that Sudanese culture dictates how to be a ‘good woman’ but if I approach the topic with the attitude that my way of seeing the world is ‘right’, I’m no better than any British colonial. After all, the gender roles in Australia can also be restrictive, just in different ways.
My aunt echoes a similar sentiment to my cousin. ‘You might look at me and say, “She has a degree but she’s sitting at home – how oppressed is she?” But I love taking care of the house, cooking, and being there for my family. I work, but I do hours that will suit my family. You might disagree, Yassmina, but the woman is better suited to bringing up a family. You can’t have a home without a mother’.
By and large, the women I talked to wanted to be caregivers and homemakers; they were happy in that role. These kinds of conversations bothered me. I started to wonder if the West really had corrupted me, and if it was crazy to expect my path in life to be whatever I wanted it to be, despite pre-existing gender roles and expectations that have been built over centuries. It was the first time I considered the idea that as a woman, my role as a procreator and a homemaker could be just as important, if not more so, than my career.
I was told Sudanese women consider it their Islamic duty to be the caregivers and the homemakers. I would later find out that wasn’t necessarily true. Some people believe that attitude came from a patriarchal reading and interpretation of the source texts. At the time, however, I had no one I could ask except those who had grown up in Sudan and thus absorbed the values around them.
If fulfilling the ‘traditional’ gender role of a woman was an Islamic duty, my fundamental beliefs as to who I should be were being challenged, and I was lost! How did I reconcile my faith with my Sudanese heritage and my Australian cultural upbringing? Travelling back to Sudan as an adult had unsettled my way of seeing the world. I wasn’t sure which direction was north. It was the only time in my life I ever called my mother, homesick and in tears, born of frustration and confusion.
I was torn between forgetting everything I’d learnt in Sudan so I could continue to live in Australia as I always had, disregarding gender in my decisions, or following the path of my cultural background, making choices largely based on society’s gender roles. With religion thrown into the mix, it became soul-wrenching. The school of life set hard exams, yo.
Back in Australia, I had considered myself Australian with Sudanese values. I was different from the white kids at school and that gave me some connection with Sudan and with the migrant and Muslim communities. Get any two brown (or third culture) kids together and they will start comparing notes and laughing at the times their parents did ‘migrant things’ while they were growing up, like staying up all night to tell you off if you were home late, giving you curfews, sending you to parties with your traditional food, or expecting you to spend the weekend cleaning the house or being with the family because relatives were visiting. A white friend might ask you to skip the family get-together to come and hang out, but an ethnic friend never would, because they knew how it worked. Family was always number one.
So I thought I knew what Sudanese values and communal living were. It wasn’t until I spent real time in Sudan that I realised my version of communal, what I thought were ‘Sudanese values’, weren’t actually that. I had always told people ‘straddling cultures’ was great because you go to pick the best of both worlds, and in a way you do, but it can also be uncomfortable when you realise your two worlds aren’t always compatible. With the acknowledgement that it wasn’t as easy being from both worlds as I’d thought, came the realisation that I might not be able to have it all as a woman, either. So is it possible to be truly African-Arab, communal and Eastern while also being Australian, Western and individualistic?
|pp. 286-288||On my trip I struggled to understand why my cousins didn’t want to do anything too far outside the norm.
‘Would you do what Sudan and Sudanese people think is right even if you don’t really want to or don’t agree with it?’ I asked my cousin, trying to understand her perspective.
‘It’s not really like that,’ she said, searching for a way to explain. ‘If I want something, but if the family think it’s a bad idea, I will probably go with what they think because they’re older and wiser than me. They know what is best, and they might understand things that I don’t yet. It’s like, if you loved someone and wanted to marry them but no one in your family approved, would you still marry them?’
I actually might, I thought, surprising even myself. My parents had always accused me of doing what I wanted to do regardless of whether or not it matched their expectations. I didn’t act maliciously, but my decisions usually came down to what I wanted. I once tried to tell my mother that I was driven by duty and obligation and she laughed at me, saying, ‘No, you’re not! You don’t do anything out of duty!’ When I’d protested, she’d pointed out that if I didn’t want to do something, almost nothing would make me do it – and certainly not a concept like duty.
I was having a similar moment of realisation now, in response to my cousin’s question.
‘I would be quite stuck, I think,’ was my eventual reply to her.
‘I wouldn’t. Why would I be with someone who would damage the relationship between my family and me?’
The opinion of her family, her tribe, mattered to her beyond my belief. Initially, I dismissed her response, thinking that it indicated a lack of agency, but as I spent more time with my cousins as an adult, I started to see it in a different light. Rather than viewing these decisions through the lens of my personal, individualistic understanding, I learnt to see them from a community perspective. If the most important thing was not the fulfilment of your own personal desires but the safety, security and fulfilment of your family and tribe, your decisions had a different meaning. The most important factor is no longer your personal desire, but is how your choice affects those around you.
Naturally, not all women in Sudan fit into that mould. Some of my other cousins were more similar to me in personality and drive and were not impressed that they were meant to settle down early and live an ‘acceptable’ life. These were the cousins I could most relate to – the Mac-owing, squash-playing, backpacking cohort that still somehow exist in the Sahara Desert. However, if my family at home in Brisbane is visited by another Sudanese or Arab-African family, my Sudanese breeding immediately kicks in and I go from a terribly outspoken, opinionated, sassy chick to a relatively demure housewife-in-training. I sit politely and listen to the conversation, but only after I have served each guest with a cold drink, brought out the biscuits, neatly arranged on a plate, and then prepared and served the tea – made with cloves, cardamom pods and just a little cinnamon. When a few families come around, the women and I automatically peel off into the kitchen and the second living room so that we are separated from the men. So, even in the Australian-Sudanese community, there are strong gender roles that I find myself adhering to, so that I don’t attract criticism for acting outside the social norm. In these situations I also conform because otherwise my actions would reflect badly on my parents, as well as on myself. I owe it to my parents to show people in the community that we were brought up ‘well’.
|pp. 289-290||The fact that women in collective societies often go along with societal traditions does not make ‘all Muslim women oppressed’ or ‘all Arab women pushovers’. When a woman in Sudan chooses her own path, this is often ‘claimed’ by the West as a ‘win against the barbarians’; this is insulting to her and to her culture, because the culture is something she most probably still values.
Yes, there are women around the world who are oppressed and some of them happen to be Muslim. But their Islam is not the cause of their oppression; the cause is usually the regime they are in, their economic circumstances, or the patriarchal environment and culture. To me, this is very clear, but it is something that seems to be difficult to communicate. The women I grew up with – my mother and the other women in my family and community – are nothing like the images of a ‘Muslim woman’ that are sold to ignorant audiences. The public commentary about Islam (and Africa!) is so far removed from my actual experience of it that sometimes I find it difficult to believe the commentators are talking about the faith I hold dear and the values by which I live my life.
Western societies need to appreciate that there is more than one way to do things and more than one way to be ‘right’. There needs to be a move away from the idea of the implied superiority of Western civilisation. The choices women from the East make are not anyone’s to control or dictate.
I often ask myself: is it wrong to continue partaking in traditions you know are based on patriarchal or potentially problematic historical contexts, in order to keep the peace? I don’t know the answer to that question just yet.”
|pp. 306-307 (describing her feelings after a tense conversation with a co-worker regarding Islam)||That conversation played on my mind for the remainder of the day. It saddened me that although he’d lived and worked with Muslims, his experience was not positive. I could understand why – the issue wasn’t the religion but the practices of the people and how he was treated. There are so many other facets to his experience – socio-economic, educational, postcolonial – but it still made me dejected that some Muslim countries had retrograde attitudes that flew in the face of Islam. I was also frustrated that, for some reason, this had legitimised the superiority of the West. ‘We aren’t like that’ was not a new sentiment, but it grated – oh, how it grated – because people like that guy had no problem highlighting negative issues in less developed countries, even though they got sensitive when similar problems in the West were pointed out. The hypocrisy is galling; people are unwilling to recognise problems in their own backyards – the effects of violence against women, of conscious and unconscious bias, and the current violation of international human rights. The peak of this hypocrisy is that other cultures, with the same kinds of problems, are rendered unworthy of respect when viewed through a Western lens. Why won’t all cultures learn from each other?|
|Pg. 326||As I unfolded and refolded the ibaya in my hands, the soft polyester pouring my fingers, I thought about how much my presentation to the world had changed over the last few years. Had I made the right choices, or had I strayed off the right path – as my father occasionally suggested – and normalised what wasn’t ‘true’ Islam? I wasn’t sure.|
|pp. 326-327||I had realised there wasn’t just one way to look like a ‘good Muslim’ and I was embracing it. Sure there was tradition and expectation to live up to, but culture changes with the times – or that’s what I told myself, anyway. And yes, culture does change, but when you’re the one evolving it, who checks whether you’ve changed it for the better? My answer has always been to look to Islam, but in areas where there’s so much room for interpretation, religious certainties are harder to come by. I was struggling to find a way to interrogate my beliefs without feeling blasphemous. How does finding the right path work when the religion encourages questioning and growth, but the environment does not seem to allow that?
If the Whatsapp messages my mother sent admonishing me for the tightness of my jeans and the new piercing in my nose were anything to go by, she didn’t think the way I was dressing aligned to our values. So even though I was having fun, was my behaviour appropriate, Islamic, right? I had to hope so, Inshallah.
|Pg. 336||Prioritising family – a value that seemed to have lost its place in the Australia that I knew – was alive and well in Sudan. Once again, the tension of reconciling my Western views with those of my family settled in my gut.|
|Pg. 337||I thought about the men who had come into my life during this very confusing year – men who were definitely not Muslim. Men who I walked away from, despite our compatibility, because they were not Muslim. My family’s response reassured me I had made the right choice. But my heart still hurt. Had I made the right choice by me? I hoped so. Allah knows best, I told myself. But part of my heart wondered if Allah would make exceptions.|
On pages 289-290 she claims “when a woman in Sudan chooses her own path, this is often ‘claimed’ by the West as a ‘win against the barbarians’…” When has the West claimed this? Has she got proof?
Yes, there are women around the world who are oppressed and some of them happen to be Muslim. But their Islam is not the cause of their oppression; the cause is usually the regime they are in, their economic circumstances, or the patriarchal environment and culture. To me, this is very clear, but it is something that seems to be difficult to communicate.
Why is it difficult to communicate? After all, she just said it was “very clear” so surely she could communicate it to make it clear for us?
Also, with regards to this section:
Western societies need to appreciate that there is more than one way to do things and more than one way to be ‘right’. There needs to be a move away from the idea of the implied superiority of Western civilisation. The choices women from the East make are not anyone’s to control or dictate.
It is interesting she mentions the ‘choices women from the East make’ because earlier in the chapter she comments that for many women in Sudan, often it is the family/tribe/community that decides or significantly influences their choices and decisions.
In defence of the West, in today’s modern world, there has been no more advanced civilisation. It is superior based on objective standards like freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, homosexual rights, health and economic prosperity. Does it mean the West is perfect? Of course not. But there is nothing wrong with saying that Western civilisation is superior in these areas. Critically, the Islamic world needs to face the Enlightenment and raise itself to the West’s moral and intellectual level.
YAM does not venture enough in exploring these differences. Instead, she thinks the problems of Islamic countries have to do with “economic circumstances” or the “patriarchy” and nothing to do with Islam.
As Ibn Warraq notes in his classic book Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, there are three tutelary golden threads running through Western civilisation – rationalism, universalism and self-criticism:
One could perhaps argue that universalism and self-criticism were the logical outcomes of rationalism, but I think it more useful to view them as separate but interconnected sets of beliefs and principles…I think many of the suggested distinguishing characteristics of the West, such as the separation of spiritual and temporal authority, can be said to derive from one or more of the three golden threads. Thus, in the latter case of the separation of church and state, as Marsilius of Padua argued, “It is the state and not the church that guarantees the civil peace, and reason, not revelation, to which appeal must be made in all matters of temporal jurisdiction.” Politics involves willing and free participation, discussion: in short, rationalism, dissent, the right to change one’s mind, and the right to oppose and disagree – that is, self-criticism – without recourse or appeal to divine commands or holy scriptures. Similarly, another defining feature, the rule of law, the thought that law is central to civilized existence and its continuation, was derived largely from the Romans. Not only is lawmaking a supremely human and rational activity, but Roman was also conceived as possessing a universal jurisdiction. (Warraq, 2007, pp. 57-58)
Warraq further elaborates:
In contrast to the mind-numbing certainties and rules of Islam, Western civilization offers what Bertrand Russell once called liberating doubt, which leads to the methodological principle of scientific skepticism….One could characterise the difference between the West and the Rest as a difference in epistemological principles. Western institutions such as universities, research institutes, and libraries are, at least ideally, independent academies that enshrine these epistemological norms, and where the pursuit of truth is conducted in a spirit of disinterested inquiry, free from political pressures. The humanities as much as the hard sciences are bound by the rules and rigors of logic and scientific inference, and are committed to the testing, verifiability, falsifiability, and refutability of hypotheses. The possibility of alternatives is freely discussed in scientific journals. In other words, behind the success of modern Western societies, with their science and technology and their open institutions, lies a distinct way of looking at the world, and interpreting it, and the recognition and rectifying of the problems besetting them. Problems are lifted out of the religious sphere and treated as empirical problems whose solutions lie in rational procedures, open to rational intersubjective criticism, not in an appeal to revelation. The whole edifice of modern science and its methodology is one of Western humanity’s greatest gifts to the world. (Warraq, 2007, p. 291)
Throughout history, the West has been far more curious, adventurous and welcoming of other cultures for the sake of gaining knowledge, as an end in itself. This hunger for learning and the pursuit of truth has seen the West excel. The Islamic world has not faced the Enlightenment and does not guarantee the rights and freedom of the individual from the state – citizens of Islamic countries have less freedom than in the West. This partly helps explain why migration trends are from the Middle East to the West, rather than the other way.
SEEKING “FEEDBACK” FROM HIZB UT-TAHRIR
Even worse, in light of the episode on Q&A, YAM approached Wassim Douriehi – an Australian spokesman from global Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir – for “feedback” on how to do better with “the platform” she currently has:
It would be very nice to know what they chatted about in private. Interacting with Hizb ut-Tahrir begs the question as to whether YAM is seriously naïve or has some agenda.
Douriehi’s response is telling – notice he mentions “secular” three times in one sentence. This is no coincidence – according to Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Australian website (bold emphasis mine):
Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamic political party that works globally to resume the Islamic way of life through the establishment of the Khilafah in the Muslim World. In the West, Hizb ut-Tahrir carries Islam intellectually as the solution to the malaise of secular liberalism.
This Islamic organisation wants to re-establish a global Caliphate (Khilafah) as it originally existed and which had been previously achieved via jihad. Islam (and the sharia) is seen as “the solution” to “secular liberalism”.
In Hizb ut-Tahrir’s booklet, The Methodology of Hizb ut-Tahrir for Change, they outline how they will bring about the change for the Khilafah. From page 30 of the booklet (bold emphasis mine):
As a consequence the party commits itself with openness, daring, clarity and challenge to any thing which contradicts Islam; whether it is other religions, ideologies, creeds, thoughts, concepts, systems, habits or traditions. This is even if it means the party exposes itself to the anger of the people who follow these thoughts, and even if they decide to struggle against the party. So when it comes to the question of Islam, the party will not flatter anybody, and will not tell the people of non-Islamic creeds, religions, ideologies and thoughts to remain as they are; rather it asks them to leave what they are following, because it is Kufr (disbelief), and to accept Islam because it is the only correct ideology. The party therefore, considers all religions other than Islam like Judaism, Christianity; and all ideologies, like Communism, Socialism and Capitalism as Kufr religions and Kufr ideologies; and it considers the Jews and Christians as kuffar (disbelievers), and whoever believes in Capitalism, Socialism or Communism as a Kafir (unbeliever). The party considers that calling for nationalism, patriotism, localism or sectarianism are matters which are all prohibited by Islam. It also considers that it is haram to establish parties which call for Capitalism, Socialism, secularism, Communism, Freemasonry, nationalism, patriotism or sectarianism or any religion other than Islam, or to participate in or join any of these parties.
The very democratic and Western values this group pathologically detests and wants to rid the world of are actually what allow them to exist in Australia to begin with. They are a “political” group intent on using the instruments democracy and freedom offer to subvert and overthrow….democracy and freedom. Hizb ut-Tahrir have totalitarian intentions – any non-Islamic system is “prohibited by Islam” and all non-Muslims need to “accept Islam because it is the only correct ideology”. It is no surprise why in many countries they are banned.
Maajid Nawaz, former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a self-described liberal Muslim, is well acquainted with this group’s Weltanschauung:
…Hizb ut-Tahrir is what I call a revolutionary Islamist group. It seeks to overthrow Arab and Muslim majority governments via military coups rather than by terrorism such as those acts that al-Qaida and ISIS engage in. Their desire is to infiltrate the armies of Muslim majority states, incite military coups, overthrow those regimes and replace in their wake a, replace them with a Caliphate. And that Caliphate would be an expansionist, global Muslim empire that would enforce their version of Islam over society. That’s the basic aim of this group.
Hizb ut-Tahrir espouse ideas and beliefs that YAM would presumably find repugnant. However, she was comfortable asking them for advice.
It is perfectly understandable why many Australians would be suspicious of her after this.
YASSMIN READING THE KORAN AND REINTERPRETING ISLAM
The following excerpt from Warraq’s book Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism provides a useful guide for this section:
It is important to bear in mind the distinction between theory and practice, the distinction between what Muslims ought to do and what they in fact do; what they should have believed as opposed to what they actually believed and did. We might distinguish three Islam: Islam 1, Islam 2, and Islam 3. Islam 1 is what the Prophet taught, that is, his teaching as contained in the Koran; Islam 2 is the religion as expounded, interpreted, and developed through the Traditions (hadith) by the theologians and jurists, and includes the sharia, Islamic law, and the corpus of dogmatic theology; Islam 3 is what Muslims actually did do and achieved, that is to say, Islamic civilization, as known to us in history, roughly equivalent to Christendom.
When I speak of Islam as being incompatible with several articles of the Universal Human Rights Declaration of 1948, I am speaking of Islam 1 and Islam 2. Sometimes Islam 3, that is, Islamic civilization, has been more tolerant than allowed by Islams 1 and 2, and vice versa. For example, Islams 1 and 2 quite clearly condemn homosexuality, and yet until recently, Islam 3 tolerated it far more than Christendom; conversely, Islams 1 and 2 are quite relaxed about circumcision, for it is not mentioned in the Koran. Many jurists recommend it, but without exception all male Muslim children are circumcised. In this case, Islam 3, Islamic civilization, follows a practice that is not made obligatory by Islams 1 and 2.
By stating that Islam 1 and Islam 2 constitute a certain set of fixed, timeless principles, precepts, and prescriptions, am I not guilty of essentialism? Who decides what Islams 1 and 2 are? Is Islam doomed to remained fixed in its medieval mind-set? Can Islams 1 and 2 change?
We can establish what, for instance, the four Sunni schools of law say on apostasy. But to say what the situation is today, and what it was a hundred years ago, requires empirical and historical research, respectively….We all tend to be rather casual and careless in the way we describe a certain belief as Islamic, without ever specifying whether we mean Islam 1, 2, or 3. Like many a Christian, who, for example, may confuse the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception, there are many Muslims who simply do not know what the Islamic doctrine is on any given point. The majority of Muslims in the world are not Arabs and do not know Arabic, and many have never read the entire Koran. How many Christians have read the entire Bible?
Quite clearly, the attitude of Muslims toward Islam 1 and Islam 2 can change. Clearly, many Muslims are not even aware of many Islamic doctrines that could affect their behaviour. Many Muslims ignore Islams 1 and 2, and yet others try to reinterpret Islams 1 and 2 to conform to what they believe should be the case. For example, many Muslim feminists try to reinterpret or ignore Koranic passages in order to improve the lives of Muslim women. Only time will tell if such strategies will work. It is up to Muslims themselves to discuss these issues openly rather than pretend that there are no problems, or that these problems have nothing to do with Islam. (Warraq, 2007, pp. 283-285)
YAM illustrates this in the following when outlining what one of her favourite Koranic verses means to her (bold emphasis mine):
There is a verse in the Qur’an that sums it up for me….
True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is one who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends their substance – however much they may cherish it – upon near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God. (Qur’an 2:177)
It might be difficult to decipher if you are not used to reading religious texts. I am not a scholar, just a Muslim woman making her way in the world, but to me this verse means that God looks at more than simply how much you pray or what you tell other people to do. It is about being the best person possible: patient, kind, helping others. To me, Islam is not just about what you wear, how you walk, what your job is. It’s about character. It’s about being someone who works to make the world a better place. It is also not necessarily about following a specific hierarchy, because that structure does not exist in the Islamic context. There is no one spokesperson, there is no one correct answer for most of the questions – the plurality of the religion is part of its beauty and why it remains relevant no matter the time or place. That said, it does make it difficult to have a single, united message and story when we are not a single community. (Abdel-Magied, 2016, pp. 73-74)
“To me, Islam is….about character.” Per Tanveer Ahmed, the “to me” indicates a Western way of how YAM understands her faith. She is reinterpreting Islam through her prism of empowerment and hip, flamboyant, “down-in-da-hood” individualism.
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with positive self-talk, empowerment and wanting to make the world a better place; however, this is not that relevant to what Islam is. Like other ideologies, Islam has ideas that unite its followers; it is a set of ideas and beliefs its followers abide by. Ultimately, it makes particular claims of truth about itself. Islam is not merely “about character”, a feel-good sentiment you could apply to lots of different things.
In my opinion, if Islam is “about character” it would be with regards to its prophet, Mohammed. It is mentioned 91 times in the Koran that Mohammed is the perfect example to follow. Therefore, to understand Islam one needs to know the character of Mohammed, what he said and what he did.
Although YAM is not a scholar, she has been studying Arabic and the Koran since a young age at the ICB. Since Koran 2:177 is very important to her, she could surely explain further on this verse. Where does it sit within the Koran? What do traditional Islamic commentaries (tafsir) say about it? Paraphrasing Warraq, she ignores Islams 1 & 2 and reinterprets the verse to her idea of what it should be.
Andrew Bostom provides an insightful overview of what various mainstream, classical and modern Islamic commentators have said about Koran 2:177 over the past millennium (bold emphasis mine):
Koranic verses 2:177/178 initiate a larger series of injunctions (through verse 2:203) which legislate on sundry matters: zakat (almsgiving), the Ramadan fast, the Hajj, and jihad. Koran 2:178 for example, establishes the law of retaliation (qisas) for murder: equal recompense must be given for the life of the victim, which can take the form of blood money (diyah): a payment to compensate for the loss suffered.
Great classical commentators of the Koran—including Qurtubi (d.1273), Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), and Suyuti (d. 1505)—concur that the opening statement of verse 2:177 (“It is not righteousness That ye turn your faces Towards East or West; But it is righteousness –To believe in Allah”) addresses, and refutes, the Jews and Christians, while affirming the exclusive “righteousness” and supremacy of Islam. Qurtubi notes, “The Jews faced west towards Jerusalem and the Christians east toward where the sun rose…they were told that was not where true goodness lay.” Ibn Kathir repeats this observation, adding “…those who acquire the qualities mentioned in the Ayah [verse] will indeed have embraced all aspects of Islam, and implemented all types of righteousness—believing in Allah, that He is the only God worthy of worship, and believing in the angels, the emissaries between Allah and His Messengers.” Suyuti confirms these previous exegeses, stating plainly “Goodness does not lie in turning your faces in [the] prayer to the East or to the West. This was revealed to refute the Jews and Christians in their claim.” He adds, “Rather those with true goodness are those who believe in Allah…and fighting in the way of Allah [i.e., Jihad] in particular.”
Contemporary exegeses reiterate these interpretations of Koran 2:177. For example, Ma’ariful Qur’an, written by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi (1898-1976), former Grand Mufti of (pre-Partition) India, and founder of Darul Ulum Karachi, is the best known Koranic commentary in Urdu…He also wrote over three hundred books. In addition to his literary works, Mufti Muhammad Shafi broadcasted tafsir of the Koran on Radio Pakistan for a number of years.
Mufti Shafi’s gloss on 2:177 from Ma’ariful Qur’an notes when, “…the House of Allah at Makkah [Mecca] was made the Qiblah [object/direction of worship] of the Muslims…the Jews and Christians…who were much too eager to find fault with Islam and Muslims, were stirred and they started coming up with all sorts of objections against Islam and the Holy Prophet [Muhammad].” He concludes that 2:177 addresses, “Jews, Christians, and Muslims at the same time, the sense being that real righteousness and merit lies in obedience to Allah Almighty”—a modern affirmation of Islamic supremacism consistent with the classical exegesis on this verse. (Bostom, 2009)
The second Sura of the Koran is considered one of the first chapters revealed to Mohammed after he made the hijra (journey/pilgrimage) from Mecca to Medina. Mohammed had been unsuccessful converting followers in Mecca and was chased away. It was in Medina when Mohammed became more violent in converting followers. As Bostom illustrates, the tafsir on this particular verse holds a very different meaning from YAM’s reinterpretation.
Furthermore, YAM waffles about the “plurality” of Islam but concludes it is hard to have a “single” message “when we are not a single community”. Logically, wouldn’t and shouldn’t Muslims have a “plurality” of messages because of Islam’s “plurality”? Interestingly, YAM deplores the West for ignoring the “plurality” of the Islamic community but thinks it is important for Muslims to have a “single” message.
Perhaps this depends on where “plurality” really lies…there are different races and cultures within the Islamic world and although Muslims have disagreed about Islamic doctrine, one often finds that the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree on the big issues like jihad and apostasy, as outlined previously. Any “plurality” on these subjects does not occur to any significant degree.
To conclude this section, one thing YAM shouted at Lambie was: “Don’t tell me that you know anything about my religion!” In addition, she doesn’t like how some people go around “dissin’ her faith” without “knowing anything about it”.
Yassmin, could you please answer the following:
- At what point can one legitimately criticise Islam?
- Do they have to be Muslim?
- What if you are an ex-Muslim?
- Can a non-Muslim undertake independent study of the Koran/Hadith/biographies of Mohammed/Islamic commentaries and come to their own conclusions, just like with any other historical/religious texts? If not, why?
The public backlash against YAM was severe because of her blatant dishonesty on Q&A. Most reasonable people realise there is some link between Islam and the oppression of women and that sharia impinges upon the lives and well-being of so many non-Muslims.
Despite the fact she is Muslim, YAM exhibits a shallow understanding of Islam and sharia throughout her memoir and in her public remarks. YAM is not honest with herself and her faith – she has mainly adopted an unquestioning attitude towards Islam. And as a Muslim woman who has grown up in the West, with all its freedom and opportunity, how can she say on national television – even after travelling through the Middle East where most countries she visited call their legal code sharia – that “Islam is the most feminist religion”?
In her memoir, amongst other things, YAM says the West needs to:
· Learn from other cultures and learn to respect other peoples’ beliefs
· Understand the choices Eastern women make are not anyone’s to control or dictate
· Accept there are other ways of being
· Appreciate there is more than one way to do things & more than one way to be right
· Move away from any idea of implied superiority
Ibn Warraq wrote Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism in the wake of the Danish Mohammed cartoons fiasco which was yet another instance where Muslims proved incapable of understanding satire. He eloquently asserts (bold emphasis mine):
The west is the source of the liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights and cultural freedom. It is the west that has raised the status of women, fought against slavery, defended freedom of enquiry, expression and conscience. No, the west needs no lectures on the superior virtue of societies who keep their women in subjection, cut off their clitorises, stone them to death for alleged adultery, throw acid on their faces, or deny the human rights of those considered to belong to lower castes….Freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it or it will die from totalitarian attacks. It is also much needed in the Islamic world. By defending our values, we are teaching the Islamic world a valuable lesson, we are helping them by submitting their cherished traditions to Enlightenment values.
This captures Abdel-Magied: Australia doesn’t need to be lectured by some millennial loud-mouth who has had the privilege of growing up in the West (and not properly understand what that truly means) to then apologetically espouse a medieval, totalitarian religio-political code which she doesn’t understand nor has directly endured.
Another petition was circulated in the aftermath of Q&A calling for a debate between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is visiting Sydney in April 2017 – as an ex-Muslim who grew up in four different Islamic countries, experienced female genital mutilation and has required 24-hour security protection for over a decade for criticising Islam, she definitely has first-hand experience of what it means to live under sharia. It would be a wonderful opportunity for Q&A to bring these two together so Abdel-Magied can face the scrutiny, maturity and fearlessness of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Let’s hope this happens.
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