Saturday, August 19, 2017

Racism: a spiritual disease: thoughts on the Alt-Right movement under the lense of the Qur'an


The United States of America has been facing alot of soul-searching as of late. Barely six months into the rise of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, a number of scandals, mostly political in nature, have emerged. These scandals, firings, accusations and disputes fueled by Mr.Trump's excessive use of Twitter have now played there way into yet another situation, the reinvigoration of the White Nationalist movement, commonly now called the Alt-Right! 

All of our readers are certainly aware of what has occured last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. The city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee had attracted the attention of both White Nationalists types [Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and their likes] and those who are concerned about the emergence of the Alt-Right. Clashes erupted between the groups, and in one encounter, a supporter of the Alt-right ( James Fields, Jr)
drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protestors, injuring 19, and killing one young woman ( Heather Heyer).

As I was traveling last week, I didn't get a chance to share thoughts on this tragedy right away. The subsequent comments from Mr.Trump added more fuel to the fire, and the ultimate ending of the political drama remains to be seen, however there were a number of things I did notice, which-along with other reasons- have prompted me to have a fresh look at the Qur'an on certain topics, some of  which we share below.

Blood and Soil

The sincere and essentially good people who work and hope for the public good eventually earn the wrath of what scripture calls Hypocrites. It is seemingly a universal phenomenon, which would explain why we find hypocrisy and it's holders in the Qur'an, the Bible, and the  writings and stories associated with the great teachers and philosophers. 

One of the slogans shouted by the Alt-Right at their rallies is "Blood and Soil". It is a Nazi-era slogan. As disturbing as that is, it does tell us the thinking of these types of people, regardless of their skin color, religious label or political party [as there types appear in every group]. It tells us that they think everything of value is to be their property exclusively, that they oppose oppurtunities for others outside of their group, that they think their color or their family name or their passport is enough of a qualification for dominion! Thus, we find the same sorts of people in opposition to government programs meant to assist those with low or no income. They oppose positive reforms in the MEDICADE and health care, they oppose welfare and they oppose public housing! 

One of the statements in the Qur'an informs us "They [i.e. the hypocrites] say : Spend not for those with the Messenger of God [Muhammad] , until they leave.." ( Q 63:7).

The hyporites in Muhammad's time ( upon whom be peace) had the same mentality as the hypocrites today. They hoped to make their perceived opponent leave the town [in this case, Madinah], that way they can grab the power they believe is really theirs. 

It is a strange situation for a white nationalist movement to emerge. They have had power in this country, and much of the world, for generations. The African-American population is, at most, 15%. 

Despite this, the hypocrites see themselves as under threat, and they will turn to the language an rhetoric of race, color and nation in order to bring support to their lust for power. 

This is not restricted to one group of hypocrites, this seems to be a repeated pattern of behaviour, in both the bigger social realm and in more private, smaller arenas.

The Qur'an goes on to say " Yet, to God belongs the treasures of the Heavens and the Earth, however, the hypocrites do not understand this." ( Q 63:7). 

The operative term here is that they "do not understand this" (Laa Yafqahoon). This tells us that the hypocrites's thinking, their world view, is very limited. It is petty and small-minded! They think small.

Returning to the action of James Fields, Jr, which has received public praise from some in that movement. He was willing to kill many people, and perhaps himself sacrifice his freedom and his very life, for protecting a statue dedicated to a rebellion which lost the war over 152 years ago!

Similarly, Neo-Nazis in an American context  often wear Nazi- Germany era uniforms, armbands, and engage in Nazi military salutes, yet the only Nazi state in history [Under Adolph Hitler] lost the war, leading to the occupation and decimation of Germany, and it's main ideologue, Hitler, killed himself rather than live in a world in which he was defeated!

So these types are glorifying an evil past, a past that led to defeat and ruin. It reveals serious cognitive problems, and, from a religious perspective, souls which are deeply troubled, in need of repair.

Other characteristics mentioned in the Qur'an

* They have no firm or true commitments, they simply jump on the bandwagon they deem successful ( Q 9:42)
* They want credit for work they did not do, and are often well-spoken ( Q 9:44-47)
* Have a history of trouble making associated with them, and yet see themselves as clever ( 9:48-50)
*Often already have goodly amounts of money and power ( 9:55, 75, 77)
* Little or none spirituality in their lives, always complaining ( 9:78-79)
* Truly Narcissistic in their thinking ( 9:57-58)

Do not the above characteristics describe situation of those who are now using the language of race and nation?  It gives us glimpses into the hearts of such people, particularly among those with some amounts of power and authority.

You will not replace us

In connection to the situation faced by Prophet Muhammad, we read " They [i.e. the hypocrites] are saying: " If we return to the town, the most honorable [i.e. superior, Al-a'azzu] will expel the inferior [Adhilla] from it." [Q 63:8]

So the hypocrites see themselves as better than those outside of their own circle, be it a circle of race, nation, or ideology! They think only for their own collective glory. This seems to explain the other slogan chanted by the Alt-right in Charlottesville. They chanted "You will not replace us". 

Media commentators have said that this slogan was directed at the Jews, and, like the previously referenced cry, is a Nazi-era expression. 

Yet, in the Charlottesville clashes, we saw that perhaps a majority of people protesting against the Alt-right were themselves white! I think that this is a good sign that while the nation is no doubt in serious and trying times, a goodly number of people, of all races and backrounds, recognize that bowing down to the petty-minded and provincial racists will spell disaster for the future. Thus, it is the view of this writer that the true object of that slogan is not simply Jewish people, but rather the wider American public [who reject these bygone deadly ideas].

The hypocrites see themselves as deserving of glory, respect, honor and appreciation ['Izzah]. They desire, to use an analogy, the pay, respect, and title of an important figure, yet have neither done the work, study, or even have the genuine desire that is a natural association with authentic efforts! 

There is a difference between a medical doctor, trained to be a suregon, and a person who has done nothing more than search for a YOUTUBE video on surgeries! The latter cannot be respected as a suregon, simply because he has not conducted the necessary preliminaries to wear such a label.

God says " Honor [Al'Izzah] is the domain of God, His Messenger, and the people of faith, however, the hypocrites do not know this." ( Q 63:8)

Allah gives light and respect to whomsoever he wishes, but we see that His Sunnah [pattern] is to give to the deserving, the sincere and the hard-working. 

The rhetoric of inferiority and superiority, hatred and scapegoating, can only go so far. It has a limited shelf-life. 

Concluding thoughts

This has not been an attempt to gain converts to Islam or even to propagate the Qur'an, rather this composition is a very limited attempt on my part to record thoughts on the societal discussions currently taking place. I do hope that it inspires the reader to see the language of race as indicitive of spiritual diseases that need to be addressed. I also hope that the reader can ponder on those in their own circles, to see who and what is healthy to maintain in their own lives. Scripture warns us to stay away from both the characteristics which breed hypocrisy as well as those who are hypocrites. Yet, it is not all doom and gloom. The Qur'an itself ( 9:66) says that there is an oppurtunity to reform. 

People can change if God puts it into their hearts to change, and if they recognize that there is a problem and seek to rectify it.  I have been blessed to meet many such people, people who had terrible thinking and even terrible actions in their past life, whose encounter with something better directed them to reform. The most important issue to address is that of correct thinking. If our thinking, our worldview or life philosophy is largely correct and healthy, our actions will likewise be a reflection of that. Yes, we can and will make mistakes, even if our foundational roots are sound, however those mistakes would be turned into virtures, in the sense that we seek to learn from them. 

It can be said that we are speaking from a prejudiced viewpoint, with our exclusive references to the Qur'an as an authoritative source, but for those who don't believe in it as a text from The Divine Source, atleast consider that wisdom, guidance, help, can be found even in unexpected sources, thus, it is prudent to think about what it says.


Non Believer said...

Hi Waheed.

The existence of these extremists is indeed troubling. However, I am bothered by your association of these people as Qur'anic "hypocrits". The situation in Madinah at the time of the revelation of Surah Al-Munafiqun would have been that the non-Muslims were now the minority. I have no trouble imagining myself among their numbers; someone who does not accept the prophethood of Muhammad but is forced to maintain a public appearance of loyalty to him. I could also imagine someone today in the heart of the Muslim world in that situation. The verses where Muhammad claims to know what these people are saying in private (63:7-8) are not unlike the lies that are told by the empowered about dissidents today.

It is good that you are aware that you may be speaking from a prejudiced viewpoint, but I must remind you that situations reverse themselves when the power is with the opposite side.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Hello NB!

Thanks for your feedback!

With regards to associating the Quranic "hypocrites" with the Alt-Right movement, the issue is that it seems that they share the same characteristics. Moreover, although not really highlighted in this article, the Qur'anic overview of hypocrisy [and even Kufr] is that it is connected with crimes within the physical world. In other words, "rejector" is a symonymous with "transgressor" " chaos-maker" and so forth. It is more than a religious title.

In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, it should be noted that Muslims, despite their influence, were still a minority, atleast for a while, which is why the Prophet entered into what is known as the Madinan constitution or agreement between the various groups [including religious groups] as to how Madinah was to be governed.

Indeed, in both Qur'an and hadeeth references, we can find examples of Non Muslims insulting and ridiculing the Prophet- in Madinah- to his face! This has been brought up to show that "hypocrisy" [pretending to believe when in fact one is rejecting] was not really a necessary move to make. The Prophet was not killing people as it seems to be that some believe. There is an interesting book I think would be useful in the study of the Prophet, particularly in the political realm. If you are interested in the title, let me know and I will pass along the title so you can acquire it at your leisure.

S Waheed

Non Believer said...

My source for historical context for Al-Munafiqun is from the Surah Info on which uses Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Quran. It is obvious to any reader that these backgrounds have a very strong Muslim bias. No surprise!

I continue to ask you to try to see past this bias and look at Islam from a non-Muslim perspective. If you don't try to think about the Quran the way the members of your audience who are not Muslims think about it, you will fail to connect with them. Just some friendly advice!

In Maududi's comments, he explains that this Surah was revealed in the context of the "hypocrite" Abdullah bin Ubayy. A critical reader should not simply accept this biased account as fact, but must contemplate how Abdullah bin Ubayy would describe these events. To compare him to a White Supremacist is simply wrong.

The commentary describes how Abdullah bin Ubayy's power was taken away from him after Muhammad's arrival in Madinah. It is clear that he did not genuinely accept Muhammad's rise to power. He judged that it was unwise to openly oppose Muhammad. This is by no means uncommon. His hypocrisy was exposed and what happened happened. I don't think Muslims should judge him too harshly. That Muhammad chose not to murder him was a political decision, as described by Maududi, besides which this represents the very lowest standard for measuring tolerance. Other Madinan opponents were not treated so well when the politics required harsher treatment.

I think you are blinding yourself if you cannot see that there are people both in Muhammad's time and in the modern day who are forced to be outwardly Muslims. Apostasy is a serious crime in some countries and even in moderate places, including the West, leaving Islam has significant social consequences. You should check out the many ex-Muslim websites with accounts written by people who have chosen to endure this.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Hello NB!

Hopefully this reply finds you well.

I understand that you are not someone who believes in the existence of God or in Divine revelation to man, however that was not really the point of this article. The point this article sought to bring out is that there can be found within the Quranic narrative very interesting and insightful observations that seem to fit those who are today following the calls of racism and feelings of ethnic superiority.

The Qur'an, as a source of information consulted by a forth of humanity, because of it's importance to the human story, it should be considered, even if it's only for the sake of knowing the "other", and this does not negate the possibility that insights can be gleemed from non religious sources as well.

As for some of the issues you have mentioned in your remarks above, let us divide it into these categories. [1] 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy [not referenced in the article at all, and who is not mentioned by name in the Qur'an itself] is called the leader of the Madinan Hypocrites. It is said that he was not only a leading Madinan figure, but that he also had a hand in such things as prostitution. The historical sources [often cited in Quranic commentaries] tell us of direct actions he took against the Prophet and the Muslims, yet, as you mentioned, the Prophet did not really do anything against him in retaliation. It is said that his own son [i.e. Abdullah ibn Ubayy's son] was a dedicated Muslim who was willing to execute his own father for his actions, however the Prophet did not agree to that. Rather, when 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy died, the Prophet himself led his funeral prayers, he was buried in a shroud the Prophet himself provided. In any case, coming back to the overall point [in connection to White Supremacy], the Qur'an seems to point out characteristics of these types of folks, namely that they see themselves as deserving of power and authority. Please have a fresh look at the article.

[2] As for apostasy, that is another issue, one which I have studied and continue to look at. I have read some accounts, even intelligent ones, regarding people who have decided to leave Islam. It is not something I am blind to, even if I do have my own views on both the Islamic textual treatment of the subject and how Muslim social order[s] treat them. In these regards, I see it as a different issue, one of doubts which have not been addressed properly.

I did read your email and will share a reply soon, God willing.

S Waheed

Non Believer said...

"the Qur'an seems to point out characteristics of these types of folks, namely that they see themselves as deserving of power and authority"

What types of folks? The Madinan Hypocrites where people who lived in Madina who did not support Muhammad but chose to appear as if they did. I understand their motivation for this deception. Do you understand their motivation?

One of these, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, according to your sources, felt that he deserved power and authority. He did have power and authority prior to Muhammad's arrival which was usurped. I can understand why he might have felt "entitled". Do you understand why he might have felt this way?

Then, you take these two things and conclude that generally all Hypocrites tend to feel this sort of entitlement.

It is faulty logic leading to an absurd conclusion. The reason I object to this type of writing is that I would be such a Hypocrite in those same circumstances and you have no reason to conclude that I would feel the same sort of entitlement that someone who had his power usurped would feel.

It's not hard to name the group in Madina who best exemplified as seeing themselves as deserving of power and authority. I will take a fresh look at the article with that in mind.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Hello NB!

In answer to the queries you have stated above, The Madinan Hypocrites were more than simply political players, they represented a serious danger to the society.

Rather than focusing on the Madinan hypocrites, the article intended to look at the qualities that are mentioned in the Qur'an [I admit the article does not treat the subject exhaustively] to see if the same are found in certain folks today. My conclusion is that the same qualities or characteristics are present.

I think the root of the difference between us is that I operate from a perspective that there is a Divine Reality which has the ability to explain things, including the core thinking patterns of certain parties, while you deny this.

Having power simply for the sake of power is an unhealthy situation. There is a hadeeth which reports that Prophet Muhammad himself said that we should not give position to the one seeking it. The seeker has in his heart a desire for glory, which leads to corruption. We are encouraged to give position to those who are already doing the work out of a sense of social duty and responsibility.

Even looking at what we know of 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy, his power seemed to have been built upon vice. Moreover, The Prophet entered Madinah [known as Yathrib in those days] at the invitation of certain parties there, in order to help bring reconciliation between warring parties. This suggests to me that the "hypocrites" were deeply involved in those things which were destroying the society, yet they benefitted, financially and politically, and they didn't want to see the gravy train disappear.

I see parallels with those who are into the racist thinking and ideologies today. The article gives bullet point summaries of why this seems to be the case.

Even if a person does not believe the Qur'an is of Divine Origins, I think it is worth it for a student of history and human civilization to take a deeper look at what it says on these sort of subjects.


Non Believer said...

No, I am done trying to find value in the Qur'an. My mind is exhausted from the effort of navigating around the myriad of bigotry in that book. Just about any other source I've read deals with the sins of its own people without projecting those faults onto "the other". How much patience should I have for a book full of "Don't commit the same sins as the Jews, the Christians, the polytheists, the Hypocrites, etc."? It might have been alright for an isolated community in Arabia, but it is a terrible way to preach in a world where we all have to live side-by-side.

While I appreciate your efforts and your patience to help me understand Islam, I am disappointed that you are not able to think outside this highly constrained viewpoint.