Category Archives: Islam

Films on South Asian Muslims and Islamophobia in the Diaspora

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Written by Randeep Singh

In much of post-9/11 cinema, a “Muslim” is someone whose identity is defined fundamentally in terms of religion rather than nationality, culture, class or ethnicity. Indeed, South Asian Muslims in post-9/11 American cinema are usually portrayed either as religious radicals or terror suspects in films like The War Within (2005) or as exhibiting a bipolar Muslim disorder in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012).

Thankfully, there have been attempts to understand the more nuanced shades of South Asian Muslim diaspora identity. In The Muslims I Know (2008)Mara Ahmed speaks with Pakistani Muslims in upstate New York on questions of cultural identity and being American while also interviewing others on what they think of Muslims.

Films from the U.K. have also tried to portray the experiences of South Asian Muslims humanistically. One such film is Yasmin (2004). The story of a spunky, young British girl from a Pakistani family in West Yorkshire, Yasmin (played by Archie Punjabi) is forced to choose her identity after the Twin Towers come crashing down.

Another film is Bradford Riots (2005), a film about Karim (Sacha Dhawan), a young university student also from northern England. When Bradford burns in riots during the summer of 2001, Karim finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law.

The third film, Brick Lane, is the story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young woman who moves from Bangladesh to East London. The film looks mostly at her life against the backdrop of her family and the British Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, before and after 9-11.

With respect to identity, Yasmin and Karim are the British-born children of working class immigrants. They are, at most, “Muslim” in an ethnic sense. Like many from working class backgrounds, they are tough, proud and street smart. Yasmin wears a hijab when she has to but otherwise lets her hair down. Karim has his white mates at college and dosses around with his boys back in the pool halls of Bradford.

In contrast, Nazneen is a first-generation immigrant who came to England to get married. Her memories are those of the paddy fields back home with her sister as she adjusts to her life in England and to raising a family. She prays to God, but writes to her sister more often.

There’s a difference in how these characters experience racism and Islamophobia. Yasmin and Karim are labelled Muslim by a society and system. Karim is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Bradford riots, raising the question of whether he received a fair trial at a time of such heightened racial tension and the public call for retribution.

Yasmin meanwhile is detained on suspicion of harbouring a terrorist in her husband. Not having gone to the mosque in five years, she is given a copy of the Quran in prison and told which direction Mecca is in. Having suffered taunts at work, she is subjected to the gaze of a police constable who threatens to charge her for withholding information which she doesn’t have.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen’s lover, Karim bears the brunt of racism and Islamophobia. After facing harassment from racist gangs, Karim and starts holding meetings on how the local Bangladeshi community can defend itself after 9/11.

For Yasmin, Karim and Nazneen, being Muslim is only part of their larger identities which are based on culture and nationality. The Bradford riots and 9/11, however, make Karim and Yasmin themselves and whether they’re different after all. Whereas Nazneen takes her religion for granted, for Karim and Yasmin, the Muslim part of their identity is something that won’t let them be.

 

Previews:

The Muslims I Know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PPBbIzq_0E

Yasmin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjzg1PC0QjM

Bradford Riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJYBX64PdV8

Brick Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbd7m00oW6c

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Filed under Cinema, Diaspora, Islam, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized

Reforming Islam?

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Written by Randeep Singh

This is a summary of talk I was scheduled to give at the White Rock Philosopher’s Cafe on November 9, 2016.

Does Islam need reform?

Do Christianity, Judaism or Sikhism need reform?

Like these religions, Islam is concerned with the mystery of the universe. It teaches love, justice and mercy. It reforms its followers through rituals like prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. It gives one hope of a world to come. As a religion, Islam needs reform no more than any other.

Islam has no supreme ecclesiastical authority to reform. There is no intermediary between God and the believer to purge. The ulama, the class of clerics of Islamic law and religion, should and can be reformed. Changing who interprets Islamic Law, invariably changes the interpretation as it has under the feminist interpretations of Aisha Abd-al Rahman and Asma Barlas. This, however, is a question of reforming Muslim communities, not of Islam.

What also needs reform are the conditions of Muslim societies. Societies that continue to burn in the fires of hunger, war and oppression cannot engage in any meaningful or sustainable self-improvement, let alone reform.

Perhaps we need to shift our focus on “reforming” Islam to reforming those political and social conditions of societies like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, which deprive Muslims societies of life, dignity and opportunity.

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The Burqini Ban

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Muslim women of France are being forced to be free, again.

A few days ago, on a beach in Nice, police forced a woman to remove her burqini. The woman was fined and charged with disrespecting secularism. She stood in the shadow of four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray. She was gawked at by others, told to go home.

I am not a fan of the hijab, niqaab or any form of face or head covering. I think they are a form of oppression. But it is not my place to tear them off Muslim women. Nor is it the place of a state with all its coercive powers to force women toward freedom by having them remove their clothing or head covering.

Like any law or ideology, French secularism is not neutral. It is the product of French culture, history and society. It reflects the will of the French majority. It did little for its Jewish minorities living in an anti-Semitic French society and culture before World War II, just as it struggles to manage an ethnically and religiously diverse society today.

The Muslim woman’s veil, in particular, has long haunted France. Colonial France saw the veil as the major barrier to the spread of her superior, egalitarian civilization. In the Algerian War of Independence (1954 to 1962), the French called themselves liberators of Muslim women. In 1957, Muslim Algerian women were publicly unveiled as part of the French “emancipation” program.

Then there’s the policing of women’s morality. This, of course, is not unique to Muslim women. In 1907, the first woman to sport a sleeveless swimming outfit in Australia arrested. The two-piece bikini was banned in Spain, Italy and Portugal and denounced by the Pope. In 1967, French women in mini-skirts were stripped by a mob.

And of course, Saudi Arabia enforces the niqaab, Iran upholds the hijaab and Pakistan has its shariah-compliant bra. To veil or not to veil is a question answered by the state, cleric or clan, but rarely just left to the Muslim woman.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/the-burkini-ban-what-it-really-means-when-we-criminalise-clothes

 

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Filed under France, Islam, Politics, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized, Women

(Na)Pakistan: The Land of the (Im)Pure

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Written by Saeed Umer Abassi

The case for separation of religion and state in Pakistan has been made by atheists, agnostics and non-believers.

I argue that case, as a believer.

In Islam, God is the supreme authority. His Will creates, sustains and destroys the Universe. He is the ultimate judge of human beings based on their thoughts, words and deeds.

What need has this Almighty God for mortals to legislate in His name? What does it benefit Him whose Law is eternal and universal to have the laws of men perpetrate injustice and cruelty?

The teachings of religion on love, benevolence and justice can better politics; but why otherwise corrupt the sanctity of religion with blood, power and greed? Why further divide humanity “in creation of one essence and soul?”

Why do Pakistanis need a state to save their souls when it does not fill their bellies? What need has Islam or God for the Hudood Ordinance, the Blasphemy Law and the murder of its people in His name? What has sixty-eight years of Pakistan done in the name of Islam and God?

The Persian sage and poet Sadi remarked in the Gulistan:

Oh! Though above all human though supreme,
Above our every word or deed or dream,
Thy service closes and we quit the Mosque
Yet of Thy meaning, scarce have caught a gleam

If the mosque has failed to bring Pakistan closer to Islam or to God, then nor will all of the Islam-pasand politicians, mullahs and mujahideen of the Land of the Pure.
..
Sign this petition for a secular Pakistan
Separate Religion from State. Remove Article 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Declare Pakistan to be a Secular Democracy
.
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Why Criticizing Islam is Not Islamophobia

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Written by Randeep Singh

Writing in the wake of Charlie Hebdo in Al-Jazeera, Abdullah Al-Arian argues that Islam has been “unfairly criticized and ridiculed” by the West for centuries. Such a history, he writes, has prejudiced the West into into painting Islam as illiberal and intolerant.

Islamophobia is a reality. So too are problems within Islam and the Muslim world. Islamophobia should be condemned; but not criticizing or questioning Islam or Muslim societies.

If I criticize Islam for engendering patriarchy, the persecution of minority groups and its smug, supremacist view of itself, it’s because I have criticized Christianity for the same reasons. I oppose Christian organizations for their homophobia, without hating Christianity. I criticize Israel without hating Jews. I criticize Islam without hating it. I am not hating or fearing anyone: I am striving for equality, inclusion and justice regardless of who or what we are.

The fight for freedom of expression is not a clash between civilizations. It has been happening within the Muslim world for centuries. Mansur Al-Hallaj (856-922) became a martyr for proclaiming “I am the Truth (God).” Sarmad (1590-1661) too was martyred for his “heretical” views. Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) challenged the mullah for his sectarian views. In modern times, Nazim Hikmat (1902-1963), Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) and Naghuib Mahfouz (1911-2006) have all been imprisoned, exiled or censured for their art and political views.

Criticism of the Muslim world as illiberal and intolerant today is likewise vindicated. Just ask Raif Badawa, the blogger who recently received 50 lashes in Saudia Arabia. Or ask Aasiya Bibi, the Christian women who languishes in prison on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan. Or how about Salman Rushdie?

Without change, the Muslim world will become progressively more intolerant and creatively barren. Denying any criticism of Islam produces a culture which is afraid to ask questions and unable to find answers.

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Filed under Freedom of Expression, Islam, Politics, Religion