REVIEW | “A VIRTUE OF DISOBEDIENCE”: MUSLIMS IN TODAY’S SOCIETY

avobn“There are times when the world is rearran­ging itself, and at times like that, the right words can change the world.” [Orson Scott Card]

Grow­ing up as a Muslim liv­ing in present-day England is… inter­est­ing to say the least. Muslim is and nev­er really has been one thing; there may be many Muslims and non-Muslims who like to believe we are one homo­gen­ous entity but no two Muslims are the same. Each one, like most who walk their own path, has the freedom to choose how they lead their lives. How­ever, we live in a time where people seem to enjoy arguing about gen­er­al­isa­tions. We form broad opin­ions on people, places or things and then beat each oth­er over the head with them, res­ult­ing in unique indi­vidu­al­ity and sim­ple human­ity becom­ing the unwill­ing mar­tyrs to our lack of abil­ity to empath­ise. We are all guilty of doing this, and I would go as far as to say that the reas­on we do this, in its purest form, is fear.

We are at a pivotal point in the timeline of our exist­ence as a spe­cies, with the major­ity of us see­ing the world more clearly than we ever have before. The world is cur­rently rearran­ging itself as we jour­ney into 2019 and human­ity becomes ever-con­scious; and per­haps self-destruct­ively so. I want to share thoughts on a book which delves into what it is to be a Muslim liv­ing in the West, in the hopes that the Muslim read­ing this may find some truth and peace, and the non-Muslim read­ing this may find some com­pas­sion and under­stand­ing. This isn’t an “Us vs. Them” men­tal­ity; this is an explor­a­tion of what it is to be the “Oth­er”. I believe, as a fun­da­ment­al truth, that we must be will­ing to explore what it is to exist with­in a soci­ety which is dam­agingly dys­func­tion­al and in deni­al, while also being marred by recycled trau­ma handed down to us by our pre­de­cessors who knew no bet­ter.

“A Vir­tue of Dis­obedi­ence” is a book writ­ten by Asim Qure­shi. The book is a thor­ough dis­sec­tion of the cycle of oppres­sion cur­rently being imposed upon the Muslim com­munity and the effect it is hav­ing on this gen­er­a­tion and the gen­er­a­tions to come. The book draws par­al­lels between the cur­rent state of oppres­sion and pre­vi­ous cycles which have taught the state how to apply oppres­sion more effect­ively. Of course, those who per­petu­ate this escal­a­tion may not act­ively and inten­tion­ally real­ise they are doing this, and those who are oppressed do not always see the bars of their cages, but it is our respons­ib­il­ity to edu­cate and rep­res­ent those who may be in need of such assist­ance. It is our respons­ib­il­ity to seek and provide val­id­a­tion, time, heal­ing, and altern­at­ive solu­tions to those of us who only dig deep­er into the wounds of our col­lect­ive pain.

Brother Asim is the Research Dir­ect­or for CAGE, a grass­roots organ­isa­tion which seeks to empower those who have been sub­ject to dis­crim­in­at­ory state policies. The pur­pose of the book he wro­te is very much in line with the object­ives of CAGE and this became clear­er to me when I sat with him and the Man­aging Dir­ect­or of CAGE, Lay­la Hadj for an inter­view. As he states in the book; “If this can con­trib­ute to the dis­course around Muslim civic engage­ment, then God will­ing, my pur­pose of writ­ing this book will have been achieved.” Sis­ter Lay­la has sim­il­ar ideas when it comes to the object­ives of CAGE; the organ­isa­tion works “…To actu­ally provide some sort of doc­u­ment­a­tion for the future, we’re hop­ing that this will become a part of his­tory and people will look back and real­ise.”

Brother Asim spoke on the import­ance of link­ing struggles; “It’s quite upset­ting at times to see Muslims not giv­ing black cul­ture it’s due in terms of what it gave to a gen­er­a­tion of young Muslims, such as myself who weren’t polit­ic­ally con­scious, who needed some­thing to help them under­stand the world in a way that made sense.” So many of us have grown up with­in a Hip-Hop and RnB cul­ture because this cul­ture was the closest thing we had to rep­res­ent­a­tion. Afric­an-Amer­ic­an rap­pers were man­aging to express the truth of our real­it­ies without even hav­ing been to our com­munit­ies. Today, the music still reflects what we see as the sys­tem­ic and insti­tu­tion­al path­ways which have been set up to the bene­fit of some and the depriva­tion of oth­ers.

Money plays a large factor, if you apply this to power as a per­son of col­our; you are most likely going to be able to dodge some of the sys­tem­ic viol­a­tions that have been set up. Many people of col­our will take advant­age of this, per­haps not see­ing just how tran­si­ent this paper priv­ilege is. “So if you didn’t under­stand that black people in par­tic­u­lar were being dis­crim­in­ated again­st,” Brother Asim con­tin­ues, “Then what you did was allow for a plat­form to exist on which the build­ing blocks of Islamo­pho­bia are formed. The two are inex­tric­ably linked to one another.” There are many Muslims who will not recog­nise the struggles of their neigh­bour until it affects them and becomes their struggle. Once people are will­ing to recog­nise the issue it can be too late to cre­ate the sim­ple solu­tion they seek. By this point we tend to have to build entire cam­paigns to dis­mantle some­thing we could’ve ori­gin­ally pre­ven­ted just by see­ing the pain in the eyes of our broth­ers and sis­ters, and mobil­iz­ing to assist.

The book also dis­cusses trau­ma with­in the Muslim com­munity, a point I wanted to expand on when speak­ing with brother Asim. “I don’t think the com­munity is spir­itu­ally and intel­lec­tu­ally able to deal with the chal­lenge of the war on ter­ror because of the fear that it brings… all of our com­munit­ies suf­fer from this col­lect­ive trau­ma because we all con­fig­ure ourselves in rela­tion to the war on ter­ror now, even in our own private lives.” This is a point I could spend hours dis­cuss­ing simply based on my own exper­i­ence of trau­ma and the deep and lengthy work which must take place if we are to heal and pro­gress in a way which seeks to nur­ture and raise human­ity. To put it simply, either we fix it or our chil­dren do. I feel the fear which exists with­in our com­munit­ies is based on an inab­il­ity to learn from our past, caus­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate anxi­ety about our future. Mean­while, we reject com­mon­al­it­ies we share with oth­er com­munit­ies who have faced or are facing the same tri­als, only to cre­ate lar­ger intel­lec­tu­al divides and spir­itu­al craters which inev­it­ably affect every­one.

The book is essen­tially a call to truth; to speak­ing the truth and hav­ing the wis­dom to under­stand that truth doesn’t always land the way we want it to. If we are aspir­ing to liv­ing in a world where truth can pre­vail and this can res­ult in some level of peace for human­ity, then it may be a case of us rewir­ing the col­lect­ive human mind in a way that has us ask­ing and answer­ing some fun­da­ment­al but much needed ques­tions. As brother Asim expressed; “The idea of justice is to take the most des­pised per­son in soci­ety and ask ‘What do rights look like for this per­son?’… It’s not about bring­ing in Islam­ic law sys­tem, we want Brit­ish soci­ety to be the most eth­ic­al and just soci­ety that it can be.” Bri­tain has the power and respon­se-abil­ity to be a pos­it­ive glob­al influ­ence which seeks to raise the ulti­mate vibra­tion of human­ity, but the ques­tion remains; are we will­ing to face the com­plete truth of the lives we live, or are we doomed to the dis­son­ance of dis­agree­ment and ego-based inhu­man­ity? The choice is ours to make.

Read our inter­view with author Asim Qure­shi here. 

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Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afi­fah is a Writer and Research­er based in Lon­don. She has spent over a dec­ade in the enter­tain­ment industry. She has dealt with enough bull­shit to feel like she can give an opin­ion. She Thanks you for read­ing.

About Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afifah
Aisha Afifah is a Writer and Researcher based in London. She has spent over a decade in the entertainment industry. She has dealt with enough bullshit to feel like she can give an opinion. She Thanks you for reading.