Citizenship and Identity
The event was organized by the Islamic Book Trust and the Islamic Renaissance Front, to celebrate the contributions of Muhammad Asad to modern Islamic thought. The event started with an introduction by Tan Sri Muhammad Kamal Hassan, former rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Kamal Hassan believed that the biggest contribution made by the late Muhammad Asad to the Islamic revival and reform movement was to present what he called the “Islamic world view”. That is, the perspective in which Islam viewed human existence.
He stated that this was one of the ideas that he learned from meeting with Mohamed Iqbal during a trip to Pakistan and further developed by Syed Abul Ala Maududi and Syed Qutub. This point was illustrated with excerpts from various writings of Muhammad Asad including The Road to Mecca, Islam at the Crossroads, and The Message of the Quran.
On Friday, February 12, 2010, Professor Gregory Baum from the Centre Justice et Foi and McGill University delivered a public lecture at the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.
The title of his talk was Islam and Democracy: A Catholic Perspective on Reform and Renewal, which is based on his critical analysis of the scholarly work of Professor Tariq Ramadan.
Professor Baum based his lecture on his latest book, The Theology of Tariq Ramadan: A Catholic Perspective.
The Reverend Dr. David Pfrimmer welcomed the attendees to the lecture and invited Dr. Scott Kline from St. Jerome’s University (a public Catholic university affiliated with the University of Waterloo) to introduce the speaker.
Professor Baum started his talk by saying that his interest in Ramadan’s work started when he recognized the high unemployment rate among Muslims in Montreal compared to other faith groups.
In response to the plot to blow up a U.S. airliner on Dec. 25, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada issued a fatwa condemning terrorist actions perpetrated in the name of Islam. A fatwa is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an individual trained in Islamic law. In Sunni Islam, it’s non-binding.
Interestingly, the signatories of the Canadian fatwa included three Muslim women. The statement called on North American Muslims to safeguard Canada and the U.S. by exposing any individual who would cause harm. If there’s quibble, it’s the seemingly parochial nature of the fatwa: Terrorism is condemned because of its negative impact on the religious freedom of Muslims. Why not simply refer to the Koranic edict against murder, or the Prophet Mohammed’s clear directive against harming non-combatants?
Others took issue with the fatwa for a different reason. Why, they ask, should Muslims have to make any statement? Why should they have to speak to actions committed by extremists? This short-sighted approach completely ignores the Koranic directive to “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.” Furthermore, public condemnation serves a valuable role in fighting domestic terrorism, according to the 2010 study Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans by the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.
Of the various things to come out of the Open Society Institute’s report on Muslim communities in Europe, including disturbing information about the level of discrimination they face, I’m not at all surprised to read that Muslims living in Britain appear to be the most patriotic. According to the research, on average 78% of Muslims in the UK consider themselves to be British, compared with 49% in France and 23% in Germany.
A heightened awareness of identity politics over the past 10 years seems to have accelerated the emergence of a pan-Islamic British identity. Predominantly second-generation Muslims from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and Egypt are identifying themselves less in terms of “back home” and increasingly in terms of “being here”.
This development of a British Muslim identity has enabled many Muslim men and women to cast aside restrictive cultural practices and reclaim their Islamic rights in harmony with being rooted to Britain.
These last few weeks, we have seen heated debate over the banning of the overly prominent minarets in Switzerland; there have been complaints against ‘offensive’ religious garb in Holland and England, and in the past, there have been curious decisions involving the removal of Christmas trees in the United States and Canada.
Is something catching? At every turn, we are confronted with impassioned and irrational reactions that either feed into a sense of victimhood among those who see islamophobia wherever they turn, or that magnify the feeling that a country’s cultural homogeneity is at risk, that is being colonized by a foreign religion.
So acute has this sensitivity become that legal or artistic authorities anticipate negative reactions, and take preventive measures. One has only to look at Germany, where an opera by Mozart was postponed because a single telephone caller suggested it would be unacceptable to Muslims. In Canada, Christmas trees are dismantled because they might offend non-Christians.
Discomfort levels in our societies are rising, or so it would seem.
In theory, we invoke diversity and tolerance. But in real life, we raise our hackles and withdraw into ourselves. Today, who can confirm with any certainty what he or she has the right to say, to show? Is the expression of difference commensurate with the rights of citizenship?
Daniel Pipes’ views on who is or is not a “moderate Muslim” (basically no Muslim is really moderate in Pipesland) are not new.
Back in 2003 he wrote an article “The Moderation of American Muslims” in which he found fault with a survey of Detroit area Muslims by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding called “A Portrait of Detroit Mosques: Muslim Views on Policy, Politics and Religion” which had found that “The vast majority of Muslim Americans hold moderate’ views on issues of policy, politics and religion.” What I found most interesting in this article was Pipes statement that: “But do the survey results actually say this? Emphatically not; Bagby’s results indicate anything but moderation, as some specific numbers suggest:
- By a ratio of 67 to 33, Muslims in the United States think “America is immoral.”
- About (the graph does not allow complete precision) 90 percent of Muslims favor universal health care.
- Fully 79 percent favor affirmative action for minorities.
- Asked about the job being done as president by George W. Bush, 85 percent of Muslims disapprove and a mere 4 percent approve.”
The niqab furor in Canada has left Muslims in a dilemma.
One very vocal organization has called for its legal ban in Canada because, they argue, the niqab as well as the burka are “political symbols of Saudi-inspired Islamic extremism.”
Most other Muslim groups responded by saying that such a ban would contravene fundamental principles of our free and democratic society – ”the state has no business in the wardrobes of the nation.”
Meanwhile, a few religious leaders have spoken out on the religious basis of the niqab.
They have stated that since the niqab has justification in the various schools of law, women who don it are fulfilling their religious obligation by demonstrating a higher level of piety.
As these Imams are from the ultra-orthodox orientation (traditionalists and literalists), they offer no interpretation on the niqab’s relevance in Canadian society but simply state what is in legal books.
A vast majority of religious leaders have been silent but, in private, they would say that the niqab is not compulsory and some of them would go as far as saying that, based on their interpretation, it should not be encouraged in Canada.
Their reluctance to speak out has to do with not wanting to be seen as denying a right to a tiny minority within the community who choose to wear the niqab because of their sincerely held personal beliefs.
But also coming into play in this issue, as it was in the Sharia arbitration case, is the belligerence of the group calling for a legal ban on the niqab –contentiousness, both in their approach as well as their relationship, to the majority of the Muslim community.