Islamophobia in Europe: Racism repackaged?

Updated 26 May 2012
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Islamophobia in Europe: Racism repackaged?

“Islam and Muslims are incompatible with rationality”…Who do you think said this? It sounds like something Geert Wilders (leader of Party of Freedom-Netherlands) or Nick Griffin (chairman of British National Party) would say, but it is the French Orientalist Ernest Renan who declared this in the Sorbonne University more than a century ago. This old animosity and ignorance of Islam closely resembles the rising trend of views and sentiments expressed in the Europe of today.
A 2012 Amnesty International report titled “Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination Against Muslims in Europe”, for instance, states that: “Discrimination against Muslims in Europe is fueled by stereotyped and negative views… Regrettably, some political parties’ messages and the portrayal of Muslims in some sections of the media reinforce these views.”
The report focuses on several areas of discrimination, namely: Employment, education, and the establishment of places of worship. Marco Perolini (Amnesty’s expert on discrimination) comments on this noting that: “Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the head scarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam… Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes.” The report accuses political parties of "pandering" to prejudices in a quest for votes and says that anti-discrimination laws are not "appropriately implemented in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.”
Opinion polls seem to confirm all the above. For example, in 2010 the French Institute of Public Opinion conducted a comparative survey on Islam in France and Germany. In France, 68 percent of those polled thought Muslims are not integrated in society mainly because they refuse to do so. Similarly, in Germany 75 percent believed the same. Just as crucially, 42 percent of French and 40 percent of Germans consider the presence of Muslim communities a “threat” to their national identities. This survey also showed that half of Germans are opposed to the construction of mosques even when there is a demand from believers. According to a UK report in 2010, almost 70 percent of the English think that Islam encourages repression of women. As for Spain, the Observatory on Racism and Xenophobia (fear of foreigners) reported that in 2010, 37 percent of Spaniards believed that it is acceptable to expel a student from school because she wears the headscarf; the same percentage stated that protests against building Muslim places of worship should be supported.
It isn’t difficult to understand these negative views if we examine the political and media discourse in a several European countries. In the UK, for instance, Islamophobic rhetoric riddles the media with compunction. Famous columnists, such as Polly Toynbee wrote: “I am Islamophobic, and proud of it”, while Rod Liddle declared: “Islamophobia?...Count me in”. In 2008, The Independent published an article wondering whether Liddle or Toynbee could so proudly declare the same about Anti-Semitism; not a chance of course. However it is a testament to British society that these condemning voices exist. Peter Osborne once wrote in The Independent lamenting the treatment of Muslims: “We do not treat Muslims (our fellow citizens) with tolerance, decency, and fairness we so often like to boast is the British way.” Still, these voices are hardly loud enough since misinforming Anti-Islam discourse continues to prevail and affect Europeans. This type of propaganda is tacitly sanctioned and nourished by many media outlets as well as political and public figures such as Tony Blair. The former prime minister of the UK sees the battle between Islam and the West as “existential” writing in his autobiography (The Journey) about the need to: “Take the time, spend the treasure, shed the blood, believing that not do so is only to postpone the day of reckoning, when the expenditure of time, treasure, and blood will be much greater”.

Imaginary Islamophobia?
In a last year study by Lancaster University, the researchers analyzed over 200,000 media articles on Islam and Muslims in the British press from the years 1998-2009. The study highlighted media bias regarding Islam, reiterating key findings from several other studies. The report summary states that: “More common than the expressly negative representations of Muslims was a more subtle set of implicitly negative representations, with Muslims often being “collectivized” and written about predominantly in contexts to do with conflict, terrorism, and extremism… Overall references to extremist Muslims were much higher than to moderate ones. For every one moderate Muslim mentioned, 21 examples of extremist Muslims are mentioned. It is also interesting to note that so-called “moderate Muslims” often get praised in a way which implies they are good because they aren’t fully Muslim”. Another study, by Cardiff University, found that 4 out of 5 most common discourses used about Muslims in the British press associate Islam/Muslims with threats/problems, or in opposition to dominant British values.
Such studies that monitor anti-Islam slants in British and other European media abound, and it’s safe to say: The prejudice is very much real. It is ironic though that a Home Office funded UK study in 2006 found that white youths in British schools are more likely to believe they are superior to those from other races. Compared to Muslim youth, the white students were found to be more intolerant and more of a barrier to integration.

Politics Regressing?
The anti-Islam rhetoric isn’t exclusive to the media but is rather gaining more power in European politics as well. As Lisa Bjurwald (prominent Stockholm-based journalist) wrote in the UK Huffington Post: “Instead of being a notorious neo-Nazi, the previously unknown Behring Breivik adheres to an ideology represented in parliaments, even governments.”
Islamophobia and scaremongering are both becoming mainstream in European politics, which is demonstrated by the significant gains by far-right parties in Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland in recent years. The same views that would be appalling if they targeted Jews (and indeed they did, not so long ago) are largely acceptable now when aimed at Muslims, and some Europeans find this alarming. Paul Hockenos (Berlin-based consultant) writes in Foreign Policy: “Breivik's ‘thought universe’ bears all the staples of a political ideology that accurately reflects a potent Islamophobic discourse that has taken hold across the continent and beyond since the 9/11 attacks. Breivik's monstrous crimes must serve as a shrill wake-up call for Europeans — and not just Europeans — to acknowledge the very real potential for violence inherent in this movement and take action to stem it, at its source.”
According to a report released by the British group (Hope Not Hate) on the eve of Breivik's trial, far-right organizations are forging new alliances throughout Europe and the United States. The report documents 190 groups promoting an Islamophobic agenda. Hockenos describes these groups (that include political parties represented in various European parliaments): "Anti-Muslim racism — a cultural hierarchy that instead of using skin color imputes immutable characteristics to cultures (Western civilization at the top, retrograde Islam its nemesis) — defines these groups' ideology of hate. Muslims are not biologically inferior, it is argued, but rather culturally incompatible…as opposed to the old-school right with its pungent anti-Semitism, this new counter-jihad movement is pro-Israel and ostensibly liberal, and is thus capable of attracting a far broader constituency.”
It seems like the lessons the continent have learned through the French revolution and the two World Wars, among other points in history, are eluding its people. In the quest launched by some Europeans to supposedly combat “fundamentalism”, irrationality, and oppression, they risk becoming all the above … Again.

This is the second part of the article on Islamophobia.


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016
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The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.