“We were the most humiliated people on earth and God gave us honour through Islam. If we ever seek honour through anything else, God will humiliate us again.”
― Umar Ibn Al-Khattab
If one reads the background and the events leading up to the moment when Umar Ibn Al-Khattab(RA) uttered those words, it will become clear that a Muslim is one who stands for principle over practicality. Stands upright with firm confidence in Islam, even in the face of external pressure to conform and fit in with prevailing norms.
In recent days social media has been awash with Muslims sharing how ‘British’ they feel and with #AVeryMerryMuslimChristmas trending on Twitter, some Muslims may feel slightly bloated with happiness that at last we are being seen in a positive light. This is understandable given the fact that Islam and Muslims generally receive negative, stereotyped and prejudiced reporting in the mainstream media. People wish to counter the anti-Muslim narrative that is constantly ‘othering’ Muslims and portraying them as ‘backward savages’ by showing them that Muslims are infact the opposite; normal people who contribute vastly to their local communities and the wider society in positive ways.
The resulting response towards the anti-Muslim hatred by some Muslims is one that is often very feeble and ‘brown-nosing’ in nature. Some seem to have subconciously adopted the idea that they are a problem community who need to constantly appease and prove themselves in order to be accepted by others.
This culture of appeasement comes in many shapes and forms whether it’s wearing Poppy Hijabs, breaking Iftar with the British Army in Mosques or showing how ‘integrated’ you are by slapping pictures of one’s Christmas decorations on Social Media.
The lowdown is those who are anti-Muslim and Islamophobic, are so for specific reasons, and no amount of showing how British you are, how good of a people we are will change that. As one recent example see the responses by such people on the 2017 Tesco Christmas advert which featured a Muslim family and how enraged those people became, the same kind of responses can be seen with the #AVeryMerryMuslimChristmas. People were enraged that multi-culturism was being forced on them, PC culture at play, conspiracies of Muslims taking over, or raging that Muslims are appropiating their festivities etc. Fact of the matter is those who are not filled with blind hate will generally accept you for who you are, and for those whose hearts are filled with hate, will hate you for who you are regardless. So we don’t need to adopt certain practices and norms and pretend to be someone we aren’t for them to accept us. We simply do not need approval or acceptance from anyone.
As Allah SWT tells us in Surah Baqarah:
“And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say, “Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the [only] guidance.” If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper.” [2:120]
Some people will never accept us for who we are and what we believe in until we have disbelieved and become like them. Indeed for some even that won’t be enough as you will still be the ‘wrong kind’.
It is also important to take a more broader view and analyse this situation and place it in the context of Islam globally. We start with pointing out that such ‘celebrations’ of British-Muslimness is not an organic grassroots endeavor. It takes dedication and resources to bring such a project to the fore. And where there is resources invested in promoting a certain narrative, there is most certainly an agenda or objective sought by those who promote the said message.
As ordinary Muslims going about their everyday life, it is easy to conform and go along with the general trends in society. One might say ‘what is wrong with showing the positivity of Muslims’? The same attitude leads to the ‘Muslim Celebrity Culture’ where Muslims get involved in things like Music, Modeling, Sports, Youtube, to supposedly present Islam in a positive light, but forget the basic principle that while you are trying to advance the cause of Islam, your actions and means must also be inline with the ethos of Islam.
What is happening as a result of these style of counter measures is Muslims are adopting practices that are prevailing norms in Western culture, in some quarters being dictated to such a route by outside forces, which are contrary to Islamic values and principles and in the process constantly diluting Islam and their own Islamic identity of being a Muslim. If seeking acceptance and showing how ‘normal’ you are means losing aspects of your Deen, then you are heading for a slippery slope. As Nabi Muhammad SAW foretold us and as a means of warning about entering the ‘lizards hole’:
“You will indeed follow the ways of those before you, hand span by hand span, and an arms length after another. Even if they enter into a lizard’s hole, you will follow them.” [Bukhari]
Returning to the topic of #AVeryMerryMuslimChristmas and the Muslim charitable work during the Christmas season. We remind the reader that in many Hadiths, the Prophet SAW has taught us that the best charity is the continuous charity, and also charity should be given in such was that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand has given, i.e discreetly. Those who are publicising their charitable deeds have therefore failed on both counts. Firstly because as Muslims they should be charitable throughout the year – on a regular basis, and secondly they have fallen victim to their ego by actively seeking to publicise their charitable works.
As mentioned above, there is a concerted effort to promote a certain image of Islam and Muslims. We can all identify with the rabid hatred of Islamophobes and anti-Muslim bigots, and we know that the general public don’t buy into their hate preaching. But there is a more subtle agenda being pushed to the Muslim masses, that is one of ‘British Muslims’ as a distinct entity. While we are pleased to see that Islam is being spoken of in a positive light, we easily miss the undertone of the movement. By accepting and validating the popularity wave, we are giving credence to this idea of a British Muslim identity. Some people will openly call for this identity to be developed and celebrated.
But we should note that, stripping away our mother culture, ethnic background and more importantly our Islamic identity, of which makes us Muslim, is what unites us with the entire Muslim Ummah globally. The Muslim Ummah is one body, and when one part hurts, the other parts feel the pain. If we accept this loaded notion of a British Muslim identity, it would not be long before we distance ourselves from our Muslim bretheren abroad – who are not ‘British Muslim’. This is not to say that we don’t or shouldn’t have any sort of identification, affection or relationship with the place we were born or live in, but rather that we are Muslim first, everything else comes secondary and conforms to our Islamic principles.
As Muslims we need to stop looking for validation for our own existence. We are as we are commanded to be by Allah, and as taught to us through the Messenger of Allah PBUH. If we are to continually seek public approval and recognition for what we do, then what will we do when our religious beliefs go counter to the grain of popular public opinion? When that happens you will quickly see those people who promote ‘British-Muslim’ identities quickly come to the fore, and usher us to not ruin our public image, by asking us to essentially compromise on our religious principles. We will then be restricted in voicing an opinion on political matters internally, or global affairs externally. Having signed up to this notion of ‘British-Muslim’ we will be expected to live up to their expectation of what it means to be one.
As Muslims we need to gain confidence in our own beliefs and our Islamic identity. We need to be able to stand firm and say whatever we do, or not do, we do it out of our desire to follow the examples of our Prophet SAW – and if it happens to be fair seeming to the people, then that is all well, and if it happens to be contrary to the people’s desires then so be it.
At a time when we as Muslims face an ideological assault by State apparatus’s, NGO’s and so called reformists who seek to change the Deen, dilute it and make Muslims conform to prevailing trends, it is important that Muslims resist this and hold firm to our beleifs, values and principles. Our entire fate in the Akhirah rests on our state of being in Dunya, everything is at stake here and nothing should be given an inch to lose. It is important not to fall into the mentality that one needs to be accepted and approved by others in order to live and survive and in the process take up means that results in one compromising and step by step break down a fort that provides fortitude to ones Iman.
Counter the anti-Muslim narratives out there, but do it in the correct manner, one that doesn’t require you to appease or put you into a certain box. Give dawah to change the hearts and minds of people, follow the Sunnah of Muhammad SAW, no matter how pure ones intentions may be, if the actions are not correct they will lead towards negative consequences.
As our Master Muhammad SAW told us, Islam began as something strange and will return to being strange in the end of time, as fasad spreads and takes foothold everywhere. Islam came and challenged all the prevailing evil norms and practices and it is doing so again. We are different, we are strangers, we are the Ummah of our Master SAW. Take pride in that and make positive change by being a Muslim, nothing more and nothing less.
“Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” [Muslim]
by Muhammad Patel with contributions from Ibn Sabeel