“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.
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