Help me be a better informed opponent of Islamophobia.
August 16, 2017 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I encounter Islamophobia either in media or in actual conversations with people on occasion, and I feel out of my depth in responding. I understand that practicing Muslims are a diverse group across many dozens of countries, cultures, and political viewpoints, but beyond that I need some help. What are some sources for learning?

I don't necessarily seek things that are one-sided cheer-leading for Islam as a religion, and am happy to read informed and honest critique of religious practice. But with that said, I feel like when I'm confronted by third-hand quotes from that one Pew poll Bill Maher is always waving around, or caricatures that Muslim societies are all like Saudi Arabia, I'd like to be able to steer the conversation toward understanding and productive conversation.

I learn best by reading articles and books, but am happy to watch things, listen to podcasts, etc. Examples of content I'm interested in:

* Anything that you've found personally useful or interesting.

* About Islam and Muslims, by practicing Muslims.

* About Islam and Muslims, by scholars or experts.

* About hijab, beyond the very useful Wikipedia page on varieties of sartorial hijab.

* About the Prophet Muhammad.

* About differing practices and beliefs in multiple countries.

*About the modern geopolitical context and causes of radicalism/fundamentalism, either in Muslim majority nations or in immigrant communities.

* Anything at all which would give me a good grasp on the different models of government in Muslim majority countries.

* Anything which gives a thoughtful and well-informed overview of Islam as it relates to democracy.

You get the point: I'm interested in reading a lot of things. I'm interested in being a better informed opponent of Islamophobia and one-dimensional views of Islam. I'm also interested in things that take a more critical view as long as it isn't Sam Harris spouting half-informed self-serving pablum.
posted by kensington314 to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Oh! And: of course I am interested in the Middle East, but I am also interested in Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, Muslim immigrant communities in the West and elsewhere, etc. I don't mean "Islam" as a direct proxy for "Middle East," as some people sometimes do.
posted by kensington314 at 11:46 AM on August 16, 2017

Is reading the Quran yourself too obvious?
posted by Middlemarch at 11:58 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

The See Something Say Something podcast is a discussion among Muslims on culture and current events. They will bring on experts sometimes. I've enjoyed all the episodes either as funny or important, so start anywhere that looks interesting to you.
posted by slanket wizard at 12:01 PM on August 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

Middlemarch -

I have a copy of the Quran and have definitely read through it, as well as a couple collections of the Hadith, but have not found this very useful in any conversation about the modern socio-political context.
posted by kensington314 at 12:03 PM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've found Reza Aslan's No God But God to be a really good overview.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:23 PM on August 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

The podcasts #GoodMuslimBadMuslim and Identity Politics are also worth a listen. Both deal specifically with women's issues (countering the "Islam is anti-women" idea), and the latter is mostly about Black American Muslim women, a group that seems to get shut out of wider discussions.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:37 PM on August 16, 2017

Two excellent books:
Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World
Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet
posted by languagehat at 2:20 PM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

> You get the point: I'm interested in reading a lot of things. I'm interested in being a better informed opponent of Islamophobia and one-dimensional views of Islam. I'm also interested in things that take a more critical view as long as it isn't Sam Harris spouting half-informed self-serving pablum.

This is a good debate from a pretty good source.
posted by durandal at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2017

If you use Twitter, one interesting person to follow would be Mahdia Lynn, who's a transgender Muslim community leader. I've learned a lot from reading her writing and checking out folks she follows and RT's, if you're interested on trans/queer/feminist voices in Islam.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:55 PM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

To an extent, this is my field of expertise, which I've published on and taught (not so much Islam and Islamophobia specifically, but other issues in the MENA region). It's a broad question, so I'll respond to a couple of your prompts. First, I think Edward Said's 1981 text Covering Islam offers an accessible starting point.

* About Islam and Muslims, by practicing Muslims.
Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving (Harvard UP, 2013)

Joseph Massad, Desiring Arabs (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007).

Emran Qureshi and Michael Anthony Sells, eds., The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

Stephen Sheehi, Foundations of Modern Arab Identity (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004).

Gilbert Achcar, Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004).

* About Islam and Muslims, by scholars or experts.
Susan Buck-Morss, Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left (New York and London: Verso, 2003).

Ian Almond, ed.The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard (London: IB Tauris, 2007).

* About hijab, beyond the very useful Wikipedia page on varieties of sartorial hijab.

Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate(New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992).

*About the modern geopolitical context and causes of radicalism/fundamentalism, either in Muslim majority nations or in immigrant communities.

Anaheed Al-Hardan, Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

Khaled Abou El Fadl, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

I have PDFs of most of these texts. If you can narrow down your question I can provide a more detailed bibliography. There's many that I am overlooking here. But this should be an okay starting point for some reading and comparative analysis.
posted by standardasparagus at 3:20 PM on August 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

As a source of learning, have you tried befriending moderate Muslims? Many will be more than happy to answer questions for you. For a start, I am nominally one (I'm not a practicing Muslim, but I was raised in a strict family so my knowledge of the faith is deep), so feel free to MeMail me for any reason whatsoever.

Universities have MSA (Muslim Student Associations) that welcome people of other faiths, and atheists, in their events, to learn about the faith and educate themselves if they so wish. CAIR (Council on American-Islamic relations) has branches in most major cities for the same purpose. Mosque websites also have contact information for non-Muslims, but these are more for those wishing to convert.

As an example of a current misinterpretation of the verse in the Qur'an that is thrown around by the likes of Bill Maher and conservatives alike, take the one that says a man is allowed to beat his wife. It's an extremely touchy subject, especially in 2017, when women are rightfully gaining their voices against violence. The English translation of this verse states straight up that a man can beat his wife. But if we were to turn to the Arabic, which is an extremely nuanced language, the verse strongly states that it is a last resort, to be used in extreme cases of betrayal when all other mediation and intervention have failed and if there's a threat of danger, and even then, that a man is only allowed to use the force equal to swatting someone with a blade of grass. Mind you, I would never, ever, support a man raising his hand in violence to his wife, but most everyone that references this verse has little or no knowledge of its true literal meaning.

The Arabic language in which the Qur'an was revealed has - like Japanese or any other nuanced language - many words and phrases for which English has no meaningful substitute. Thus, translations do little justice in interpreting the tenets and beliefs that most Muslims practice today.

Even as I disagree with the practice of the faith in many ways by my own family, it's useful to note that in the 1400 years since the existence of Prophet Muhammad, various cultures have interpreted Quranic teachings in their own ways, often in the most patriarchal and brutal ways possible. I can also safely say that in some cultures that are less restrictive, such as the South Asian one I was raised in, women are given extreme importance. Their opinions as wives and daughters are not ignored, they are businesswomen and travelers, they own and operate schools and are responsible for the [good] education of generations of women in my small country - Muslim and non-Muslim. Countries like Saudi Arabia, that supposed center of Islamic morals and values (heh), could take a lesson from some of the Muslim minorities living in other countries on how to project Islam's true image. This goes for slavery, rules of inheritance, male and female modesty, intoxication, food... you name it. Many Muslims think of Islam as a lifestyle and not as a religion, and there are positives to this that are undeniable to those who've experienced both that and Western culture. Again, I say this as an intense critic of the faith.

Sorry if this response is rambly. Hopefully something in here gives you an idea of the value in speaking to someone who lives the faith and can give you more color on how it helps shape their lives in a positive way, thus dispeling some of the notions of Islamophobia. Islamophobia is, for me, a sensitive subject. I can understand anger at Islam when it is based in an educated, rational, reasoning; when it is based in ignorance and emotion, dialog is generally fruitless. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself! If you are more interested in reading material, I second the recommendation of Reza Aslan's writing.
posted by Everydayville at 3:23 PM on August 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

Martha Nussbaum's The New Religious Intolerance is excellent. I have a PDF of the full work--feel free to message me for a copy.
posted by mmmbacon at 3:54 PM on August 16, 2017

This is a great question and a good project--one of the terrible things about Islamophobia is the way it demands Muslims constantly be explaining and justifying themselves, often to people who will refuse to actually ever listen to them because they think they've learned everything they need to know from Breitbart or whatever. The more the rest of us can step in and counter the bullshit, the better.

First just let me just second Everydayville's recommendation to seek ways to engage in person if you can--not so much by directly approaching people for information, but by finding opportunities to meet Muslims in your community organically--whether that's interfaith stuff, volunteer projects, activism (seriously, young Muslims are an amazing force in so many organizing contexts in the US right now), etc. Having book learning and facts is great, but when I find myself arguing with (for example) conservative relatives about this stuff, I've often felt like the facts just bounce off, but being able to ground my counter-arguments in personal experience (time spent living in a Muslim-majority country, being friends with Muslims from a pretty broad spectrum of devotion/practice) sometimes makes more headway than being able to out-cite them.

Before hitting the library, I'd suggest starting with the CAP report "Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America" (esp. Ch. 2) and the subsequent follow-up reports/resources (here, here). The Islamophobia you're encountering is not just a borne of ignorance or stereotypes, it's the result of a deliberate ideological campaign designed to seed mistrust. This is why you get so many assholes in comments sections spouting off about taqiyya etc, and it's helpful to understand the roots of the misinformation if you want to fight it. For a broader context/history to this, Said's Covering Islam, Mahmood Mamdani's Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, and Darryl Li's short article A Jihadism Anti-Primer are all good resources. And have a look at The #IslamophobiaIsRacism Syllabus (an activist/academic collection of resources in the tradition of the Ferguson, Standing Rock, etc syllabuses).

Beyond that, standingasparagus's list is great; I'd be happy to suggest more academic readings if you want specific texts on different regions or topics (also depending on your level of tolerance for theory and academic jargon; some of my faves (The Calligraphic State, The Graves of Tarim, Dreams That Matter, Politics of Piety, etc) are kind of far out along that scale. But a good starting point would be Talal Asad's article "The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam", which is a classic for a reason. (His father Muhammad Asad, who was a convert to Islam, wrote an influential translation and commentary on the Qur'an--"The Message of the Qur'an"--that you can find online.) Also, for more basic information about contemporary beliefs and opinions, I've heard good things about John Esposito & Dalia Mogahed's "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think", which is based on a massive global Gallup poll of Muslim countries/communities.
posted by karayel at 8:36 PM on August 16, 2017

> His father Muhammad Asad, who was a convert to Islam, wrote an influential translation and commentary on the Qur'an--"The Message of the Qur'an"--that you can find online.

Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning that—it's my go-to translation (and I had to go to some lengths to seek it out back in the days before online), and the notes are terrific.
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Islamophobia, as you encounter it - what is it? Are people criticizing Islam (the religion), or Muslims (a people)? For me, a POC who grew up Muslim, this is a VERY important distinction to make, and it should inform your response.

Islamophobia has become a blanket term conflating criticism of the religion with hatred of Muslims. One is ok; the other is not.

I have many valid criticisms of Islam. It's a religion that oppressed me and continues to oppress my loved ones in innumerable ways. I left the religion because while there is some good in it, there is too much bad. So, for a fair and balanced view, seek out THIS perspective too - the perspective of people who lived Islam and left it. If you want to talk about Islam, you should be able to acknowledge the bad within it.

At the same time that I criticize Islam, I abhor discrimination and bigotry against Muslims. Muslims are my family and friends. Muslims, just like Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists and everyone in between, are comprised of both wonderful people and crappy people. We can stand up for Muslims and their right to practice Islam - while still acknowledging that many of the ideas within Islam are problematic.

Here are some articles/books that are worth reading:

The New Center by Ali A Rizvi
Women’s Rights vs Anti- Muslim Bigotry: An Unfortunate Tension by Hiba Krisht
The Clash of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali

Feel free to memail me to discuss further.
posted by orange and yellow at 5:16 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

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