Embrace Muslims as Muslims
In an era of rampant secularism and heedless nihilism, social justice has become the new religion of the West. Hardly a day passes without a celebrity falling low and being branded as a ‘bigot’, usually for saying something we all believed until yesterday. This worldview has permeated all levels of society, from schools and workplaces to the highest echelons of Western political life.
Ever since Donald Trump was elected, this new cult has purported to represent the rights of Muslims. Resistance to the infamous travel ban and criticism of inflammatory rhetoric emanating from the political right has become a cause celebre for critics of the American president.
Yet these modern-day crusaders remain unwilling to answer vital questions about their utopian vision. Their quest, while noble, is beset by a fundamental contradiction and collective myopia: marginalised groups disagree between themselves and find each other’s customs mutually unacceptable.
While keen to uphold social niceties and avidly pouring scorn over whatever nonsense comes out of Trump’s twitter account, many Westerners go silent when asked how they would address the social values of a practising Muslim.
Would they, for instance, force Muslims to reconsider their concept of Nikah (marriage) to make provisions for the LGBT community? Would European Muslims face opprobrium from intrusive feminist movements for adhering to the principle of Haya (modesty)? Would Muslim women be expected to share changing facilities and public toilets with male-bodied transgender people?
While France has taken an explicitly Hobbesian approach, intent upon enforcing conformity and restricting visible expressions of the Islamic faith to the private sphere, other Western cultures are doing something perhaps even more sinister. Despite ensuring that Islam is treated with outward politeness, there is an unspoken expectation that Muslim lifestyles will be overhauled and their faith will exist in name only.
The growing animosity towards Muslim tradition and way of life is illustrated by the behaviour of Jessica Yaniv, a Canadian transgender activist. Over the past year, Yaniv has harassed beauticians, of whom many were Muslims or belonged to other religious minority groups, demanding that they wax ‘her’ scrotum.
Despite having little fortune suing immigrant women for refusing to handle male genitalia, Yaniv’s behaviour shows Western hostility towards Muslim social values. While keen to showcase their outward respect for the faith, most recently by sacking an elderly Asda employee for sharing an edgy Billy Connolly video, Westerners are reluctant to allow Muslims to live as Muslims.
Tolerance which enforces a façade of politeness, permitting superficial markers of identity while stifling all practical application of the Islamic faith, is little more than a bribe. It is a bone thrown to the Muslims while they are assimilated into a secular and hedonistic Western world.
This Faustian bargain is neither desirable nor sustainable. In the seventeenth century, the English philosopher John Locke warned against enforcing uniformity and encouraged religious pluralism insofar as minority groups did not harm each other. Western secular societies and Muslims must find a way of respecting each other’s differences without seeking to transform each other.
Islam has always espoused a high level of tolerance. Muhammad (PBUH) himself reproached his follower for seeking God’s wrath against pagan attackers. The Quran acknowledges that mankind exists in ‘many nations and tribes’ and urges us to know but not despise each other (49:13). It also forbids forced conversion, stating ‘let there be no compulsion in religion’ (2:256).
The ability to disagree respectfully has always stood at the heart of tolerant societies. The Western world must heed this today and embrace Muslims as Muslims, rather than demanding their assimilation as a precondition. Muslims themselves should not trade the true meaning of their faith, sustained by prayer and tradition, for a concoction of shallow identity markers so readily accepted by the West.