Rethinking "How to Address Islamophobia" as Worship during Ramadan

In the first khutbah of this Ramadan, I must bring attention to a recent publication that deserves a considerable amount of reflection and thought, titled, “The European Islamophobia Report,” edited by Farid Hafez and Enes Bayrakli. Farid Hafez is a well-known academic whom we have mentioned in at least two previous khutbahs because of his plight with his own country’s government, the Austrian government, that targeted him specifically because of the fact that he edits the European Islamophobia Report. He was arrested and the Austrian government tried to bring some terrorism-related charges against him. After the plight of going through the court system, being processed by the strong arm and the repressive powers of the state, eventually a judiciary soundly and appropriately dismissed the case.


But the European Islamophobia Report deserves significant attention. It is a long report, close to 600 pages, covering every country in Europe. In most cases, it has different scholars covering each European country. What is astounding about the report is that whether we are talking about the executive powers of the state, the legislative powers of the state, the soft powers of the state, the media and broadcasting systems, or just popular culture, the extent to which Islamophobia is so clearly embedded in every European country is truly astounding. 


Some of the facts that the report documents are truly terrifying. Even members of the Tablighi Jama'at, for example, which is as apolitical and quietest an organization as one can get, were arrested and prosecuted in Russia. In Russia, even Imam al-Bukhari was banned because his work was deemed to be “extremist literature.” Even an abridged version of Bukhari was banned as “extremist literature.” We read that the Austrian integration minister, Susanne Raab, has spent close to 2 million euros on a “Political Islam Documentation Center,” and has invested a considerable amount of money to warn fellow European countries and invite them to monitor what is referred to as “political Islam.” We read in this report about continuing shutdowns of numerous Islamic centers, Muslim civic organizations, and mosques all in the name of “integration” and of fighting “political Islam.”


From Belgium to several other European countries, like Romania and Poland, the government is intimately involved in what discourses take place in Islamic centers and what khutbahs are allowed to be given or not given. In Belgium, the government will often force imams it does not like to resign. In a number of European countries, imams who have tested the power of the state and given khutbahs that were not to the state's liking were not only forced to resign, but in many cases that the report details, were forced to leave the country altogether.


We learn from the report that Europe has clearly not learned anything from the Bosnian genocide. I remember very clearly that before the Bosnian genocide broke out, Islamophobes were publishing books like “Target America” and authoring reports about “international Islamists.” The purpose of these publications was to warn Europe about the rise of “Islamic nationalism” and “political Islam” in the heart of Europe. This genocidal discourse preceded the genocidal activity that was the Bosnian genocide. Apparently, Europe has learned nothing. 


Once again, from the report we learn that there is an obsession over the rise of Islamic nationalism and political Islam in Kosovo. We learn that there was a European Commission Kosova Report of 2022, which sounded identical to the type of propaganda material that was disseminated and distributed about Bosnia before the Bosnian genocide. 


We learn from the report that in countries like Denmark and France the hijab is not only banned, but if a Muslim student wears a skirt that is deemed to be too long, or as covering too much of her body, she can be disciplined and punished. Even more disturbing is that the European Court of Justice has upheld the right of European companies to fire or refuse to hire muhajabahs. All they have to do, according to the decision of the European Court of Justice, is take a principled position against all religious symbolisms at the workplace. The European Court of Justice did not stop there. It went even further, saying, "If they discriminate between religions, then, and only then, should they have a good reason." There must be a “good reason,” for example, to allow for Christian symbolism but not for Muslim symbolism, or for Jewish symbolism but not Muslim symbolism. But the practical effect is that you can discriminate. If you are sued and called out on your discrimination, you should have a “good reason” for discriminating. If you have a good reason, then that is apparently okay with the European Court of Justice. It is only problematic if you do not have a “good reason” for discriminating between one religion and another, like allowing, for instance, the Sikh turban but not allowing the Muslim hijab. The language of the European court is so broad, so vague, that it begs the very obvious question: what if your reasons as a business include social bigotry and cultural bias? What if someone was to say, "My clients do not mind the Sikh turban or the Jewish yamaka, but they do mind the hijab”? From the language of the European Court of Justice, it seems that would be a logical defense and explanation.


The report is very detailed, systematic, and rigorous. At the same time, however, as we see this meticulous documentation of pervasive Islamophobia all over Europe, it begs the simple and straightforward question: where are Muslims? The report clearly shows that when it comes to Islam, many European countries have happily put aside their liberal values and embraced all types of inconsistencies and paradoxes about liberal democracy and their treatment of Islam. The report documents the repeated banning, censoring, and controlling of Islamic speech; the basic assumption of Islamophobia, however, is that it is Muslims who do not understand freedom of speech and liberal values. The paradoxes and the inconsistencies hardly seem to bother Europe.


Even more, there is the micro-level involvement of the state with religion, this time in differentiating what Europe considers to be “good, appropriate, and acceptable religion.” In fact, Europe partakes in God's Divine powers, sitting in the seat of the Divine legislature, dictating to Muslims what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, and what is reprehensible within the realm of the Divine will. 


Meanwhile, I do not need to underscore that, as expected, on the very first day of Ramadan, another Palestinian was shot dead. In fact, in the first few days of Ramadan, Israeli forces are practically invading every Palestinian town and city. Israeli soldiers have stormed Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Jenin. When you read the list of restrictions that the Israelis have produced to access the al-Aqsa Mosque, you really wonder about the legitimacy of international and universal human rights discourses. These very same restrictions, if applied to a Christian population, would have been proof positive of Islam's intolerance and inability to coexist with other religions. But Europe and the United States, again, are hardly bothered by anything Israel does. 


So much so that when the State Department released its annual human rights report, as many of us expected and feared, the State Department minimized the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, although she was a U.S. citizen. They were defensively apologetic about all the Israeli war crimes and human rights violations, marginalizing and sidestepping the numerous war crimes and human rights violations that Israel has committed in the period between the State Department's last report to their current report. Although U.S. law bans the granting of visas to those who persecute others, to racists, and to people who believe in racial superiority, the U.S. did give a visa to Bezalel Smotrich, who came to the U.S. and gave a speech that can only be described as pure, unmitigated racism. Once again, Bezalel Smotrich repeated the deeply racist rhetoric that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people, and that it is the Jewish people who are the real Palestinians. As Bezalel said, "I am the real Palestinian."


A thorough and complete cancellation of an entire group of people. A racist refusal to consider the lived experiences and realities of these people. Despite the racist discourse, and despite the fact that it fits perfectly with apartheid attitudes, Europe has been deadly silent. Not only that, but the UK recently entered into a special agreement with Israel in which the UK promised Israel to not do business with companies that embrace, support, or otherwise validate the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Israel can eradicate the consciousness of the Palestinian people in the most racist fashion, and the UK promised Israel unreserved, unmitigated, and unconditional support and aid in prosecuting, persecuting, and boycotting any company or group that points to the fact that Israel is a deeply racist apartheid state.


Every time Ramadan comes around, I am happy for the blessing that God allows, especially the blessing to witness another Ramadan. To reflect upon the principle and the idea that we have an entire month in which we should practice, pursue, reflect upon, and comprehend the simple idea of ihsan and goodness. At the same time, I realize, like every Ramadan, that it is remarkable that in so many Islamic centers we will hear talk about completing the Qur'an in Ramadan, reciting the Qur'an in Ramadan, increasing prayers in Ramadan, and yet, as a people, when it comes to something like the European Report, how many Muslims would even bother reading or comprehending any of the material that this report covers, leave alone reading the report itself?


How many Islamic centers will see it as part of their moral and ethical obligation to take a serious pause, rethink the dilemma of Islamophobia, and use Ramadan as an opportunity to wage a methodical campaign upon one of the most widespread and powerful forms of racism of our day and age? How many Muslim organizations make it their business to communicate to their congregation the contents of a report like this? To embed in the consciousness of growing generations that Islamophobia is not just attacking the character of the Prophet, but Islamophobia is the Bosnian genocide, the Bosnian rape camps, the systematic oppression of Palestinians, the dehumanizing of Palestinians as a people who do not exist? That Islamophobia is the selling of organs of Uyghur Muslims? That Islamophobia is the breaking out of fires in the Rohingya camps and the deaths of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims with no one caring, though it is now believed that the fire was intentional and purposeful? That Islamophobia is the starvation of the Rohingya? 


While the attention of the world remains focused on Ukraine, on the White Christian migrants who have lost their homes, Islamophobia is the United States committing to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen. Islamophobia is the fact that thousands of Somalis perish from an existing famine that is projected to last far into the future, and yet the U.S and its allies do not spend millions of dollars feeding the Somali people but do spend millions of dollars making sure that the Shabaab movement in Somalia never spreads or gains power. Millions of dollars are happily spent in killing Muslims, but not in feeding the Somali people. All of this is Islamophobia.


Ramadan comes and goes, and yet the consciousness of Muslims remains affirmatively ignorant, pedantic, insignificant, egotistical, and selfish. 



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