ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM: Racism & the Media
by Matloub Husayn Ali Khan
The west and the wider media have in recent years been regularly accused of racism (1) and hostile to Islam and the Muslim World. The events of September 2001 (9/11) and July 2005 (7/7) have raised this latent hostility to a crescendo. The perceived threat of Islamic Fundamentalism by the west and especially – by many in the USA argue that all forms of Fundamentalism whether moderate or extreme consisted a threat to “world peace and stability” and hence the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, the USA colluded with racism in 2001 (8 days prior to the tragic events of 9/11) (2). The increased ‘Islamic extremism’ is the stronger evidence proving that such traumatic events did not happen in isolation or in a vacuum and it was a blowback phenomenon to western culpability in the Muslim world (3).
Many Muslims tend to be generally offended by the term: Fundamentalism. There also are those Muslims to whom Fundamentalism signifies a movement for historical change and revival. The word: Fundamentalism’s definition, linguistic origin and usage through the English language according to Muslim writer, Azam Tamimi:
‘...has historically been linked with the nation that the Bible’s the literal word of God is infallible. The influence of fundamentalism here comes mainly from American Protestantism: a 20th century movement advocating that the Bible be interpreted literally is the central foundation of Christianity. The French developed the phrase Integrisme’ which was thought of by Charles Murras a right wing thinker who supported the Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France, in 1940 to 1945…’
Integrisme is now a term that is most commonly used in the French media referring to Islamists. It is common practice to call all Muslims who want to return to Fundamentals of Islam as either Fundamentalist or integrist. Strictly speaking, this includes every practicing Muslim who accepts that the Qur’aan as the word of God and the Sunnah (example) of the holy Prophet (SAW) provides a narrative model for Human existence. Whilst at the same time, both ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Integrisme’ are frequently equated with political activism, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism and anti-terrorism. These terms have become too ‘loaded’ or too laden with Christian Pre-supposition and Western Stereotypes.
The Arabic equivalent term is Usuliyah: a derative of the root word Asl (Singular) or Usool (Plural) which means root, origin, foundation, fundamental or principle. Therefore, Ilm Al ‘Usool” refers to that branch of knowledge which involves the study of the four areas of Islamic Jurisprudence. Qur’aan, Sunnah, Qiyas (analogy) and Ijma (Concensus). A usoolee is one who specializes in the field of learning.
In the Arab world, al-Usuliyah is also described as a phenomenon of Islamic activism.
The repression of these sentiments has caused some group’s to radicalize their politics within the broad spectrum of the movement for Islamic revivalism. The use of violence to achieve their aims. Instead, of following the example set by the Holy Prophet (SAW) and his Companions (PBUT) and the path of the Imams and by the Sufi Saints message of Islam: as a compassionate & peaceful religion. It is important to note that such minorities have always existed not only in Islamic civilizations, but within every Human civilization throughout history.
Just as in the past there were extremist groups such as Khawarij or Khairiji (who were responsible for the murder of the 4th Caliph ‘Ali) (4) and Mu’tazilah, and even today there are some groups and individuals who lack proper understanding of the sublime objectives of Islam and who, from time to time, manufacture interpretations or ideas that only confirm their ignorance of knowledge (Ilm) and Usool. On such school of thought is the Wahabi movement founded by Ibn Abd al-Wahab on the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. Even though, Abd al-Wahab claimed to uphold Sunni orthodoxy, ‘his theology was far too radical to be conservatively orthodox. Astute contemporary observers note that the movement’s dynamics and ideals resemble Khairiji movement in the seventh century which was seen as heretical by all Sunni and Shi’i versions of orthodoxy (5).
The recent phenomenon of ‘Islamic revivalism’ can be traced back to the Muslim Ummah’s (Community) realization of the decline of Muslim civilization. History has taught Muslims an important lesson that: Islam flourished most where Muslims adhered closely to Islamic precepts and declined where they failed to do so. In Europe, ‘progress’ only began after renaissance, after discarding religion and other outdated practices. A vast majority of Muslims believe that religion and progress are inseparable. The other key feature of this Islamic revival is dominance of western imperialism which was largely responsible for the systematic removal of Islamic influence from all aspects of public life. The opposition to western imperialism triggered itself into nationalist movements for independence most Muslim states flirted with socialism and which proved to be just as corrupt as Liberalist governments. The recent changes in the Muslim world have meant that the resulting vacuum can only be filled by Islam.
The process of Islamic revivalism has gained momentum in several distinct phases. For some Muslims in the west it has started with a response to racial & religious prejudice and which has triggered an increase in Islamic Spirituality & revivalism that involved a re-awakening of the Islamic spirit.
However, when you discuss the issue of racism with people-they will vaguely talk about and mention the word discrimination at work or in Public attitude to Black Minority and Ethnic (BME) communities, (in UK) the 1976 Race Relations Act and recent amendments in 2000 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations came into force on 2nd December 2003 and the very recent Equality Act 2006 (Part 2) came into force on 30th April 2007 which includes religious discrimination (any religion or belief) has given Muslims some limited legal redress.
More importantly, for Muslims it is the unfounded hostility directed towards them in the form of ‘Islamaphobia’. The term also refers to the practical consequences of this hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslims from mainstream society and from political and social affairs. There are those who oppose the term and say that “it is political correctness” and that it stifles debate and criticism of Islam. However, debate is fine but what about outright Prejudice.
Unfortunately, there are many minority fringe groups of the Muslim Ummah in the west who advertently or inadvertently, contribute to the distortion of Islam’s image by sometimes acting in ways that can be construed by society at large as being over-zealous.
This behaviour according to many Muslim journalists and writers (including themselves in misunderstanding Islam) has tended to contribute towards the distortion of the image of Islam and thus fuelling a desire on the part of the western Press and Media to incriminate Islam whenever an opportunity arises.
A good example of this is the ‘apparent’ historical schism between Sunni and Shia schools of thought within Islam has been misconstrued by many Muslim historians and scholar’s misconceptions of the 4th Caliph: ‘Ali’s sincerity and the sacrifices of his offspring. According to the most reputed scholars and an eminent leader of Muslim India: Abdul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1991) “…The result was that the real personality of Caliph ‘Ali and the brilliance of his character had been lost in the mist of time...”According to an eminent tabe ‘yee (6) Sufyan b. ‘Uaninah: ‘Allah had bestowed four types of sword upon the prophet: …and the fourth was with which Saiyadana ‘Ali dealt with the rebels, forwards and the extremists.” (7)
The misunderstanding on the phenomenon of Islamic resurgence and it generally blamed it on poverty, over-population, extremism in Iran (‘axis of evil’) and unemployment. This misunderstanding is reflected in the negative portrayal and frequent misrepresentation of Islam and Muslim by the Media, which has enormous power in shaping public opinion, (this includes Radio and TV).
Majority of the western journalists associate Islam with the desert and a Bedioun lifestyle or with backwardness, violence and terrorism. Muslims and Islam is portrayed as a threat to freedom and civil liberties, a threat to progress and development and a threat to World Peace and stability.
The main factors which distort Islam’s image include ignorance of Western journalists, Producers and Writers who tackle Islamic issues – often know very little about Islam and its culture. Much of the ignorance about Islam and the Racism against Muslims emanates from the secularization process, the wrath of which is now directed mainly against “Fundamentalist” Islam. The assumption of inevitable conflict between Islam and the west and that they cannot co-exist and that one can only flourish at the expense of the other. People like Francis Fukuyoma and Samuel Huntington in their books talk of ‘The End of History’ and ‘Clash of Civilisations’ respectively (8) . It is important to note that the behavior of some Muslims in the West have not helped – whilst they have benefited from western systems, its institutions and positive values, indiscriminately denounce and condemn the society at large as un-Islamic. These groups tend to portray Islam as a religion that is undemocratic, anti-parliamentarian, a culture that is opposed to freedom of thought and is resistant to co-existence with other communities. Unfortunately, such groups whose lack of a proper understanding of Islam or have a vendetta against Islam with some canon fodder to attack and even demonise Islam and Muslims. Under such circumstances it is not completely fair to blame the Media alone for portraying Islam the way they do.
Another Muslim writer: Asaf Hussain (1990) argues that the Western conflict with Islam has an "Anti-Islamic tradition and the Mass Media have been mainly in control of the western news agencies which are well established and sophisticated. Anti-Muslim sentiments and racism have existed in European culture ever since the crusades, but has taken different forms at different times".
The western media has been a powerful instrument to influence the public opinion of western democracies and in this way it has served their political-economic interests. Mass media reportage was favourable to pro-western states in the world. Where some country did not toe the western political line; the western mass media did not favourably project it. It often spread disinformation about such countries (i.e.; image of Muslim state of Iran).The media has been the propaganda aim of the west and Islam has been the worst victim of it.
In the UK, many Muslims have faced discrimination in recruitment and employment practices (known from Muslim workers – personal testimonies) and increasing number of racial attacks on Mosques and on people wearing Muslim dress etc. The apparent undercurrent of anti-Muslim feeling is widespread with negative stereotypes in all sections of the Press, including broadsheets and tabloids with bureaucratic obstruction or inertia in response to Muslims requests for greater cultural sensitivity in education and healthcare, and non-recognition of Muslims by the law of the land. Although nowadays discrimination of religion or belief is unlawful and the 1976 Race Relations Act has been amended and expanded.
Within South Yorkshire (UK), prior to the Employment Equality (Religion or belief) Regulations in 2003, during the Community Radio Broadcasts via Radio Ramadhan and Burngreave Community Radio between 2001-2002 (9) ; Majority of the presenters/DJ’s made the point of mentioning Muslims right to have time off work for Friday (Jumma) prayers and many symbolic months like Muharram (New year) Ramadhan (fasting), Hajj (Pilgrimage) and Celebrations like Eid and Eid-Milad-nabi (The prophet Muhammad – SAW birthday) in line with mainstream days of Sunday and Christmas day.
To sum up this paper, on Islamic Fundamentalism, Racism and the Media: The historical legacy of the western media’s onslaught against the so called “Islamic Fundamentalism and Muslims in general needs to be seen in the context of ignorance, jingoism, chauvinism, orientalism and western superiority. For Muslims within Britain and in the wider Europe have an important role to play in countering the campaign of misinformation against the Islamic faith. Muslims should try to understand Islam and should endeavour to portray, through proper practice, the true image of this unique religious faith, the purpose of which is to liberate humanity, establish justice and peace in the world and perfect Humankind’s relationship with the creator.
The curse of racial prejudice, racism and narrow minded nationalism (be it in the UK or across the world) have been and are still responsible for majority of troubles in an ancient and modern world. The undeniable fact is that the growth in the appeal of Islam in the west is due to other fact that Islam is first and foremost, a universal religion found on belief in the oneness of God than stand for Equality and Unity of Humankind. To return to God is finally to do away with discrimination, prejudice and racism.
MATLOUB HUSAYN ALI KHAN, 12th October, 2008.
Notes & References
© MATLOUB HUSAYN ALI KHAN
(1) Definition of racism in the compact Oxford dictionary 2003: "belief that there are characteristics; abilities; or qualities specific to each race.
(2) "Dr Habib Siddiqui's article in the Muslim weekly Newspaper – page 15 (28/9/07): stated that during the World Conference on Racism in South Africa on 4th September 2001, the US walked out of the conference in support of Israel. The US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson strongly condemned the decision to pull out of the conference. He said that the US has missed out on an opportunity, and is using the Middle East issue to avoid having to talk about other sensitive matters, including reparations for slavery. In his recent visit to Burngreave, Sheffield (UK) in August 2007, he said, "the movement to abolition started when the first Black man said, I'm not going on that boat' Burngreave Messenger, Issue 72).
(3) Op cit.
(4) See also Sardar, Ziaduddin's article in the New Statesman: 18th July 2005, p11 & his book: Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journey of a skeptical Muslim, Granta.
(5) 'Kugle cites Sulayman Ibn (brother of) 'Abd - al-Wahab's, book: 'Al-sawariq-al-ilahiyya' in his study of: Sufis & Saints Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality & Sacred Power in Islam, p272.
(6) Lit; a successor of one of the Prophets companions: cited in Abdul Hasan Ali Nadwi, The life of caliph 'Ali.
(7) Sarakhshi, Mabsut, Op.cit; Vol.II.p.2.
(8) Sardar, Ziauddin, article on the Qu’ran in New Statesman, 2000.See Burngreave Messenger BIBLIOGRAPHY1. Azam TAMIMI: Islamic Fundamentalism & media, Fosis Journal, 1997-982. Abdul Hasan Ali Nadwi: The Life of Caliph ‘Ali, Academy of Islamic research & Publications, Lucknow. India 1991.3. Asaf Hussain: Survey of Anti-Islamic tradition Western media, Volcano Books, Leicester, UK, 1990.4.
(9) Burngreave Messsenger, Sheffield, website articles and back issues from 2001 to 2007.5. New Statesman 18th, July 2005.6. Scott Kugle: Sufis & Saints Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality & Sacred Power in Islam, The University of North California Press, Chapel Hill, USA, 2007.
Matloub Husayn Ali Khan: This a paper I wrote a couple years ago and it is a bit dated - but some point still support the arguments of the continued misprepresentation of Islam & supports some of the points brought out in Zahack Tanvir's recent video.