As European authorities target Salafism, the word needs parsing

What exactly is Salafism? In continental Europe, the word is now used as a catchall for extreme and violent interpretations of Islam. This week for example, authorities in the German state of Hesse raided five premises including a mosque; it was the latest move in a crackdown on ultra-militant forms of Islam all over Germany which began last week. “Extremist propaganda is the foundation for Islamic radicalisation and ultimately for violence,” said the interior minister of Hesse, Peter Beuth, by way of explaining the latest raids. “The Salafist ideology is a force not to be underestimated,” he added.

On November 15th, German federal authorities banned what they described as a Salafi organisation known as “True Religion” or “Read!” whose notional purpose was to distribute copies of the Koran. On the same day, police swept through 200 offices and other buildings across the country. Ralf Jäger, interior minister of the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), reportedly gave this reason for the ban: “Every fifth Salafist who has travelled out from NRW under the aegis of so-called Islamic State in order to join a terror cell had previous contact with ‘Read!’”

In France, too, the word Salafi or Salafist is often used as a generic term for forms of Islam which are too extreme for any government policy to parley with or accommodate. Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, has reported with alarm that the Salafis, although a tiny minority among French Muslims, may be winning an ideological war in France because their voice is louder and more efficiently disseminated than any other. François Fillon, a centre-right politician who is likely to make the run-off in next year’s presidential election, is a strong advocate of cracking down both on Salafism and on the groups linked to the global Muslim Brotherhood.

In the very loosest of senses, all Muslims are Salafi. The word literally describes those who emulate and revere both the prophet Muhammad and the earliest generations of Muslims, the first three generations in particular. There is no Muslim who does not do that. But in practice the word Salafist is most often used to describe a purist, back-to-basics form of Islam that emerged on the Arabian peninsula in the 19th century.

But even Saudi Salafism, despite appearances, is no monolith, according to H.A. Hellyer, a British scholar who studies Muslim communities across the world. Several different tendencies can be detected among the kingdom’s religious scholars, who underpin the monarchy.

In Egypt, too, the word Salafi is used as though it had a simple meaning, but again that is misleading, according to Mr Hellyer. On the face of things, the Egyptian Salafis are represented by a political party, Al Nour, which emerged as a powerful player after the 2011 uprising, and favours extreme conservatism in matters of dress, gender roles and personal behaviour. This is contrasted with the more tactical and pragmatic form of Islamism represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged in Egypt in the early 20th century and now wields influence through ideological allies all over the world, including Europe.

Here is another source of confusion: in the broad sense, the Brotherhood too is partially Salafi in inspiration. It shares the ideal of going back to the very first generations of Muslims; that was part of the thinking of Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder.

Do the politicians of France and Germany, who use the word Salafi/Salafist as though it were virtually a synonym for terrorist, need to know all this? Yes they do, because the safety of Europe’s streets is at stake. In Britain, for example, there are Salafi mosques whose preachers are theologically conservative but are far from terrorists; and there have been terrorists who have had nothing to do with the mainstream of Salafism. It’s important to understand that of the various forms of Salafism described, there is one, the unreconstructed kind, which can (though does not always) morph into terrorism. Labels can be a helpful pointer through a maze of complexity, but in the end the labyrinth has to be negotiated carefully.

Why do so many Muslim women find it hard to integrate in Britain?

As gender politics go, it was unquestionably a modest step, but in Bradford’s Carlisle business centre the development felt seismic.

For five years Haniya had been striving to secure a job in digital marketing. It seemed not to matter that the 28-year-old had the qualifications, the aptitude, the ambition. Friends watched her confidence drain away. Haniya considered removing her hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Burying the fact she was a Muslim became the final option.

In front of 50 women at the centre in Bradford’s Manningham district, Haniya announced she’d finally entered the workplace. “That was great news, but for many discrimination within the labour market, along with a lack of opportunities, creates a fatigue that eventually erodes self-esteem,” said Bana Gora, chief executive of Bradford’s Muslim Women’s Council .

Haniya had triumphed where most peers had failed. Being a Muslim woman in Brexit Britain offers few advantages but does guarantee membership to the most economically disadvantaged group in UK society. In Manningham, where the last census found three-quarters of its 20,000 population were Muslim, the prevailing concern is that emboldened bigotry and Islamophobia unleashed in the wake of the Brexit vote threatens to marginalise Muslim women to the point that they are effectively excluded.

Seven miles from the business centre, past Bradford’s central mosque and south along the A651, lies the west Yorkshire market town of Birstall. Here, outside its library at 12:53pm on 16 June, Labour MP Jo Cox was fatally attacked by an extreme rightwing terrorist as the EU referendum campaign approached its finale.

Cox’s murderer Thomas Mair was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. The 53-year-old is a white supremacist who considers immigration anathema to British values and who hoped his crime would inflame multicultural tensions.

The government’s forthcoming report into integration – the first state-backed exploration of the issue for 15 years – arrives against a febrile backdrop. Conceived in July 2015, the report’s lead author, Louise Casey, appreciates that the debate on race, the self-identity of Britain itself, has shifted dramatically since its inception.

But the report’s main thrust remains unaltered, namely attempting to improve “opportunity and integration” for ethnic minorities who largely remain on the outside looking in. Issues of segregation and inequality remain, factors identified in the wake of the 2001 race riots that engulfed Manningham and prompted a Home Office report that identified parallel lives between ethnicities that “do not touch at any point, let alone overlap”.

Gora says things have improved vastly in the period since, but the shift of Islamophobic rhetoric into the mainstream has perturbed Bradford’s Muslim women.

“These are scary times, there’s a heightened fear and anxiety over what the future holds. The Muslim community feels it’s under a magnifying glass. The rhetoric in the media, constant negative messages being disseminated. It’s unsettling,” she said. Even in Manningham, racist attacks have happened. “We’ve had women with their headscarves ripped off,” said Gora nodding to Carlisle Road, lined with charity stores and a green-domed masjid.

Casey’s 17-month investigation across the UK, which included a visit to Manningham’s business centre, found that Muslim women were being squeezed further from mainstream society. Many had given up trying to find a job. Acquiring economic independence, pursuing a career, meeting new people had become a pipe dream for the majority. A three-tiered system of discrimination was discovered: being a woman, being from an ethnic minority, and finally being a Muslim.

Few are holding their breath. Critics say the principal word in Casey’s review – integration – is clumsy and loaded, giving the impression that unless ethnic minorities commit to total assimilation they have failed.

Yet in this corner of West Yorkshire there is also hope. Concerned that the buoyant textile industry near Bradford was employing low levels of Muslim women, the council introduced initiatives to entice its local Pakistani and Bangladeshi workforce into a sewing academy. Mark Clayton of Bradford council said: “Women are by far the largest group adversely affected directly by inequality, which can be compounded by economic, social and cultural barriers.”

It is a truth that affects most of the UK’s estimated 1.5 million Muslim women, a societal bias that Casey’s report hopes to start addressing.

Justin Welby: It’s time to stop saying Isil has ‘nothing to do with Islam’

Claims that the atrocities of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have “nothing to do with Islam” are harming efforts to confront and combat extremism, the Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted.

Religious leaders of all varieties must “stand up and take responsibility” for the actions of extremists who profess to follow their faith, the Most Rev Justin Welby said.

He argued that unless people recognise and attempt to understand the motivation of terrorists they will never be able to combat their ideology effectively.

The Archbishop said that it was essential to recognise extremists’ religious motivation in order to get to grips with the problem.

He also said it was time for countries across Europe to recognise and rediscover the “Judaeo Christian” roots of their culture to find solutions to the mass disenchantment which led to the Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of anti-establishment leaders in the continent and beyond.

His comments came during a lecture at the Catholic Institute of Paris, as he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Although the Archbishop voted for the UK to remain in the European Union, his lecture contained a scathing critique of “centralisation, corruption and bureaucracy” in Brussels which he said had handed its opponents “easy ammunition”.

He said millions of people in Greece in particular were suffering because of the actions of European decision-makers who had urged it to join the Euro on a “false prospectus” and ultimately turned the entire country into the “biggest debtor’s prison in European history”.

Europe, he added, appeared to have lost its original vision of how economics could improve people’s lives rather than “economic structures enslaving human beings”.

“In order to understand, religious people in Europe must regain the ability to share our religious vocabulary with the rest of the continent,” he continued.

“If we treat religiously-motivated violence solely as a security issue, or a political issue, then it will be incredibly difficult – probably impossible – to overcome it.

“A theological voice needs to be part of the response, and we should not be bashful in offering that.

“This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that Isis is ‘nothing to do with Islam’, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.

“Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution.”

 

What makes a young British woman turn to Salafism?

Salafism is now thought to be the fastest growing Islamic faction in the UK. Salafism, often referred to as Wahhabism, is an ideology commonly associated with Isis and often features in the news, usually as a label applied to jihadis who’ve committed atrocities abroad. This has led many to assume that home-grown followers – who first began to emerge in the 1980s – pose an active threat to society. In Britain, however, the vast majority of self-described Salafis are explicitly anti-violence – indeed, their leaders have been among the most vocal in their condemnation of terrorism.

They also expressly prescribe obedience to the law of the land, so you won’t hear them calling for sharia law to take its place. In other respects, Salafism is arguably one of the most puritanical and conservative brands of Islam: it advocates strict gender segregation, for instance, face veils and rules that govern practically every aspect of day-to-day life. There’s even a Salafi etiquette for going to the lavatory (while saying a special prayer, enter the bathroom with your left foot forward, then exit with your right; do not greet anyone while on the loo).

And any modern dilemmas that haven’t already been covered will be ruled on by male scholars thousands of miles away – usually in Saudi Arabia. Nor may a woman disobey her husband – who is entitled to take up to four wives – unless he’s trying to interfere with her religious duties. Theoretically, he’s within his rights to demand sexual intercourse whenever he wants (unless she’s menstruating), as well as to forbid her from going out to work.

So why would any young British woman choose to become Salafi? What makes her want to stop going out raving with her mates – as many did before donning the niqab – and to live by rules that make 1950s housewives seem liberated? To find out, I spent nearly two-and-a-half years participating as much as possible in the highly segregated activities of Salafi women’s communities in London. Had they been brainwashed? Or forced into niqabs and seclusion? And how did they reconcile the strict rules they had to follow with life in modern Britain?

Most of the women, I discovered, had come from less observant Muslim backgrounds, though a substantial number were converts from other religions. All seemed well-equipped to make a rational decision: the vast majority were either current or former students, or else actively planning to go to college or university. I’d begun my research by respectfully donning a headscarf – though I never pretended to be Muslim – and attending the women’s religious study circles, Friday prayers and other community events, with the permission of the leaders. But gaining the trust of people who already felt constantly under scrutiny as potential “extremists” was no easy task.

I’ve witnessed for myself how Salafi preachers convey a sense of simplicity and authenticity. At every lesson I attended, the teachers rarely strayed from quoting or paraphrasing the words of the scriptures or of famous Islamic scholars. In fact, the phrase “I think” is banned from the Salafi teacher’s lexicon: all points must be framed by the Qur’an, hadith or words of a respected scholar. Even the rules that shape their lives are presented as rooted in “authentic” Islamic texts. They may be harsh in a 21st-century context, but they leave no room for doubt. And that’s the attraction: complete and utter certainty. Having such a clear sense of purpose in life was undoubtedly fulfilling for the women I interviewed. “Subhanallah [glory to God]!” said Maryam, a university student in her mid-twenties. “I feel more at peace and tranquil, in that I am trying my utmost to implement the religion because I have evidence to support me.”

For a Salafi, there’s no need to familiarise yourself with centuries of Islamic scholarship and debate, or to investigate the practices of the many other Muslim groups. By simply following Salafi teachings, it is claimed, you can be assured of God’s blessing – and hopefully a place in Paradise. As one woman, Wafa put it: “It’s as simple as ABC.”

The other women I interviewed made similar remarks, though all had unique stories to tell. Among them were Afro-Caribbean converts, the daughters of Somali refugees, former gang members, second-generation Pakistanis and people with various other mixed backgrounds. Some had previously been supporters of Islamist and jihadi groups, but had eventually become disillusioned and started seeking alternatives. I even met a former Catholic nun, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, two Poles and a Sikh convert. All had decided to embrace Salafism and live by its rules. Far from converting because of family pressure, as is often assumed, most women had parents who were, at best, puzzled by their daughters’ new lifestyle.

40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam

Overall group prejudices on the decline

The SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld have conducted a representative sociological survey of 1,896 Germans to probe how widespread right-wing populist attitudes are among the population. According to the authors, the results draw “the picture of a divided society.”((Zick, Andreas, Beate Küpper, and Daniela Krause (2016). Gespaltene Mitte, Feindselige Zustände: Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2016. The entire study is available at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=11000&token=63d1583c0c01b940d67518cf250f334b87bf5fdb; an executive summary at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=10999&token=d27af43a8d36326af8cf0964a25a57f3b95f8ba4 ))

Overall, patterns of rejection social minorities has continued to decline since the first comparable study was published in 2002: negative attitudes towards people with disability, homosexuals, immigrants, and Sinti and Roma are down, as is prejudice based on sex or race.

Islamophobia and hostility against asylum-seekers bucking the trend

However, Islamophobia and rejection of asylum-seekers are on the rise, being voiced by 19 and 50 per cent of respondents, respectively. Negative views of asylum-seekers therefore overtake the stubbornly high levels of prejudice against the unemployed, shared by 49 per cent of the population, as the most widespread form of group-based stereotype.

The authors note further interesting trends: since a similar study was conducted in 2014, the polarisation of opinions has increased, with more people either categorically rejecting or absolutely upholding stereotypes. Moreover, prejudice against immigrants, Muslims, Sinti and Roma, asylum-seekers, or against the homeless are significantly more widespread in the Eastern part of the formerly divided country, and among social classes with lower income and education.

Politically, it is the partisans of the Alternative für Deutschland Party (AfD) that most often exhibit a comprehensive worldview marked by the denigration of others. They express dislike of immigrants (68 per cent), Muslims (64 per cent), Sinti and Roma (59 per cent), asylum-seekers (88 per cent), and the unemployed (68 per cent).

Views on immigration

A majority of 56 per cent of respondents nevertheless continues to support the intake of refugees. 24 per cent see negative side-effects of recent immigration but are optimistic that these can be overcome. 20 per cent explicitly denounce the fact that Germany has taken in refugees.

38 per cent unequivocally support an upper limit to the number of refugees accepted in any given year – a measure frequently proposed by Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU – while 21 per cent strictly reject it.

While only single-digit percentages feel culturally or financially threatened by refugees, around a quarter of respondents fear a drop in living standards. 35 per cent believe that the German state is more concerned with helping refugees than ethnic Germans in dire socioeconomic straits, while 50 per cent reject this statement.

Right-wing extremist attitudes

The study thus asserts that – perhaps in the media frenzy surrounding the rise of populist forces – the German population’s fundamentally positive attitude towards refugees is being “underestimated”. The tolerant majority is lodged against “a not unsubstantial and loud minority” that “does not just reject refugees but also denigrates other social groups and has a penchant for right-wing extremist views.”

Overall, such right-wing extremist attitudes (captured in the study by the relativisation of National-Socialist crimes, a belief in German racial supremacy, national-chauvinist attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment) remain at stable and relatively low levels of 5.9 per cent in East Germany and 2.3 per cent in the West.

However, the percentage of East Germans professing such views doubled between 2014 and 2016, mainly due to rising right-wing extremism among the elderly, the uneducated, and the poor. During this time, the east of the country also witnessed an increased incidence of right-wing violence and terrorism.((For bomb attacks in Dresden shortly before the German National Day, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/german-national-day-celebrations-dresden-overshadowed-bomb-blasts-right-wing-agitation/))

The rise of right-wing populism

Beyond such far-right views with a neo-Nazi edge, a more diffuse set of opinions associated with “right-wing populist orientations” has slightly risen since 2014, now observable among 20 per cent of the population, as well as 80 percent of AfD voters.

The study’s authors conclude that “classical right-wing extremist attitudes are increasingly replaced by the modernised variant of new right-wing attitudes”. This outlook carries “nationalist-völkisch ideologies in more subtle form and in a more intellectual garb”.

The most widespread belief in this category (held by 40 per cent of respondents) is the conspiracy theory that German society is being “infiltrated by Islam”. Beyond that, 28 per cent accuse the ruling elites of “committing treachery of the people”, and assert that the German state today prevents dissenters from uttering their views and opinions freely. 29 per cent assert that “it is time to show more resistance” to contemporary political decision-making.

Populist suspicion towards Islam

Indeed, especially the high incidence of the belief that Islam and Muslims were subversive actors seeking to infiltrate the country is jarring. It demonstrates the extent to which suspicion against Islam as an alien force has become the cornerstone of right-wing populists’ appeal to the population.

This widespread suspicion also resonates with a wealth of other empirical findings, including a study published earlier this year that had highlighted the stark divergence in perceptions of Islam between German Turks and ethnic Germans.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/))

Politically, this sentiment echoes the AfD’s assertion that Islam is “not compatible” with the German constitution.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/04/24/islam-not-compatible-with-german-constitution-says-far-right-afd-party/)) Of all the populist tropes the AfD relies upon – such as the defamation of elites, disparaging of the press, and the call for resistance – the fear of Islam is the belief most widely held in the population. This fact showcases the incentives for the party to continue to free-ride on and exacerbate these fears.

In the wake of the recent American election, the study also highlights trends in Germany that are similar to those that brought Donald Trump to power in the US. Most notably, it captures a widespread feeling of disaffection among white Germans that can be found disproportionately in some regions of the country (the former East) and that are often poorly educated as well as concentrated on the lower ladders of the income distribution.

Somali Refugee Makes History In U.S. Election

She’s a former refugee, a Muslim, a mom of three, and now the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.

“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Ilhan Omar, 34, said. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”

“I think I bring the voice of young people,” Omar said. “I think I bring the voice of women in the East African community. I bring the voice of Muslims. I bring the voice of young mothers looking for opportunities.”

She won House District 60B in southeast Minneapolis with 80 percent of the vote.

I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.

A lot is being said now about the “silent secret Trump supporters.”

This is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman “of color” — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump. And I’m not a “bigot,” “racist,” “chauvinist” or “white supremacist,” as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some “whitelash.”

In the winter of 2008, as a lifelong liberal and proud daughter of West Virginia, a state born on the correct side of history on slavery, I moved to historically conservative Virginia only because the state had helped elect Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States.

Tuesday evening, just minutes before the polls closed at Forestville Elementary School in mostly Democratic Fairfax County, I slipped between the cardboard partitions in the polling booth, a pen balanced carefully between my fingers, to mark my ballot for president, coloring in the circle beside the names of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence.

Ann Arbor police: Woman forced to remove hijab after man threatens to set her on fire

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A woman was forced to remove her hijab after a man threatened to set her on fire with a lighter near the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor police said the incident happened in the 600 block of East William near S. State Street between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday.

Police said the man approached the victim and demanded she remove her hijab or he would set her on fire. The woman complied and was able to leave the area.

The University of Michigan is warning students to watch their surroundings. It issued a campus safety alert. The threat leaves most students, regardless of religious faith, disturbed.

Trump Effect: Jewish and Muslim Organizations Form New Alliance

A new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council will work to protect religious minorities’ rights as well as other ‘issues of common concern.’

Less than a week after an election that left many minority and religious groups in the United States feeling disenfranchised, two important organizations – one Jewish and the other Muslim – announced an unusual alliance on Monday.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have teamed up to form a new national group of leading Jewish and Muslim Americans: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

In a press release, the AJC said that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

Muslim girl terrified to return to school after classmate beats her, rips off hijab

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling out a north metro middle school for what it calls a “lack of response” following an alleged incident where a Muslim girl’s hijab was pulled off.

The girl had her headscarf forcibly removed by another student and thrown to the ground at school Nov. 11, according to a press release from the organization.

Once the girl’s hijab was on the ground, her classmate pulled her hair so that it fell down in front of other classmates, the release states.

The girl has not returned to Northdale Middle School, where she feels unsafe, according to the release.

The girl’s family reports that the incident happened Friday at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, CAIR-MN says, adding that the school didn’t respond until Tuesday.