Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

Capture of underage female IS-supporter in Mosul shows extent the group’s appeal

 

As the so-called Islamic State’s last bastions in Mosul fell, Iraqi soldiers and militias captured a host of IS-fighters. Amongst them were a larger number of foreigners who had joined the terrorist group over the preceding years.

Trip to the Levant in 2016

Yet few arrests have called forth more international attention than the case of Linda Wenzel, a 16-year-old girl from a small town in Saxony, Germany. She was discovered by Iraqi forces in a tunnel along with 20 other female IS-supporters, three of whom were also German.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamischer-staat-vermisste-jaehrige-aus-sachsen-im-irak-aufgegriffen-1.3599355 ))

The teenager had left her home in 2016 and had been missing since then. Her turn towards jihadism had occurred unbeknownst to her parents and her family. According to investigators, online conversations with IS-sympathisers were key in swaying the girl to travel to the Levantine battlefields via Frankfurt and Istanbul.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

“Jihadi bride”

Her precise role within IS remains unclear. Iraqi sources have described her as a sniper; yet given the group’s conservatism in gender matters it seems unlikely that the young woman was allowed to play an active combat role, even if she should have wished to do so.

According to intelligence sources, she was married off to a Chechen IS-fighter; a fact that has led many media outlets to refer to her as a “jihadi bride.”(( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/18/teenage-german-isil-bride-captured-mosuls-old-city/, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html )) This points to the ways in which the IS’s female recruits are seen as even more ‘exotic’ and quintessentially incomprehensible than their male counterparts.

IS’s female members

Yet in contrast to many other jihadist groups, the IS has been extremely adept at attracting female supporters. According to the German domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, 20 per cent of Germans who have joined the group are female. And among the minors flocking to the caliphate, 50 per cent are women.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

German Islamic studies scholar and counter-terrorism expert Marwan Abou-Taam points to the ways in which the IS has managed to offer an appealing vision to many young women. Many are taken in by the glossy portrayal of jihadi fighters online. Becoming a wife and child-bearer to a fighter provides new sense and meaning, Abou-Taam highlights.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Extradition to Germany

Not all women are joining the IS for personal or marital reasons, however: many wish to make a contribution to the creation of the caliphate and are highly ideologically motivated.

Whether this was the case for Linda Wenzel remains to be seen. Personnel from the German Embassy are in touch with her and the other German women arrested in Mosul. It is understood that Germany will seek their extradition. If they remain in Iraq, the women may be facing the death penalty, as marriage to and support of IS-fighters are treated as a capital offence in Iraq.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Challenge of reintegration

In her home town of Pulsnitz in Saxony, public opinion is split on Linda Wenzel’s arrest and her potential return. Some of the town’s inhabitants expressed relief that the girl had been found. They hoped for a speedy reunion with her parents.

Others openly voiced their fears. One of the girl’s former neighbours asserted that “we don’t need her here. At the end of it, she might show up with an explosive belt.”(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

This highlights once more how the arrest of the so-called “foreign fighters” that had joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria is not so much an endpoint as a new start to the problem: the meaningful reintegration of these men, women, and children remains an issue that European governments will have to struggle with for the foreseeable future.

Hollande: France has a ‘problem with Islam’

The French president, François Hollande, has said his country has “a problem with Islam” and that there are too many illegal migrants arriving in France.

He also suggested that today’s “veiled woman” could become a Marianne, the female symbol of the French republic, and attacked his rival Nicolas Sarkozy as “the little De Gaulle”.

The controversial remarks are published in a 660-page book, A President Should Not Say That: Secrets of Five Years in Office.

Hollande, 62, also spoke of the women in his life and how his actor girlfriend, Julie Gayet, wanted to be de facto first lady of France, which he said was a “hot topic” between them. He admitted he is feeling lonely and betrayed in the Elysée Palace, where he sometimes feels like a “ghost”.

The French leader, whose desperately low popularity ratings make it uncertain as to whether he will stand for a second term in office, made the comments during more than 60 interviews with Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme.

The subjects covered range from Hollande’s dismay over the national football team and the new generation of players (“they’ve gone from badly educated kids to ultra-rich stars with no preparation”) to his 2012 presidential rival Sarkozy, whom he described as “a Duracell bunny who is perpetually agitated” and full of “vulgarity and cynicism”.

But Hollande confided that he would not hesitate to vote for Sarkozy if it was a choice between his predecessor and Marine Le Pen, the leadeer of the far-right Front National.

It was his comments on Islam that could prove the most controversial.

The book quotes Hollande saying: “It’s true there is a problem with Islam … and nobody doubts that. There’s a problem with Islam because Islam demands places (of worship), recognition. It’s not that Islam is a problem because it’s a religion that is in itself dangerous but because it wants to assert itself as a religion on the Republic. What might also be a problem is if Muslims don’t criticize acts of radicalization, if imams behave in an anti-republican way.”

 

He added: “The veiled woman of today will be the Marianne of tomorrow … because, in a certain way, if we offer her the right conditions to blossom she will liberate herself from her veil and become a French woman, while remaining a believer if she wishes, capable of carrying with her an ideal … Ultimately, what are we betting on? That she will prefer freedom to subservience. Perhaps the veil is a kind of protection for her, but that tomorrow she will not need it in order to be reassured of her presence in society.”

On immigration, Hollande told the authors: “I think there are too many arrivals, immigrants who shouldn’t be there … we teach them to speak French and then another group arrives and we have to start all over again. It never stops … so, at some point it has to stop.”

Laurent Wauquiez, president of the opposition centre-right Les Républicains, accused Hollande of being “willing to barter the symbol of the French republic for political Islam”. He said Hollande was “selling off the most powerful symbols of the French republic on the cheap”.

 

OPINION: WHY ISLAM NEEDS FEMINIST VOICES TO COUNTER MISOGYNISTIC INTERPRETATION OF KORAN

A few weeks ago, just prior to the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology met in Islamabad. The agenda for the meeting was packed, and 19 of the Council’s 20 members were present. The main issue for debate was the question of whether the Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2015, passed by the Punjab Assembly earlier in the year, could be deemed Islamic. The only member not present was the Council’s sole female member, Dr. Sameeha Raheel Qazi.
When the meeting was over, the Council, under the leadership of its chairman, Maulana Sheerani, issued a press release declaring that a man, under certain circumstances, was permitted to ”lightly beat his wife.” These circumstances include instances of “wifely disobedience”: the Council enumerated the refusal of marital sex, interactions with male strangers, and even refusing to take baths of purity following intercourse or menstruation.

Manufacturing Bigotry: A State-by-State Legislative Effort to Pushback Against 2050 by Targeting Muslims and Other Minorities

Based on review and analysis of laws passed and bills proposed in 6 identified issue areas, some key findings are noted below:
i. Red states, or states dominated by Republican lawmakers, have the most restrictive legislative agendas across all six (6) issue areas for both laws passed and bills proposed.
ii. However, a relatively small number of lawmakers, 480 out of 3813 (12.6%) Republican state legislators are sponsors of restrictive bills proposed in more than one issue area. This indicates that, more than “red vs. blue” politics, this is a “red vs. red” issue, reflecting internal disagreements within the Republican Party at the state-level.
 iii. Additionally, as both parties have become more polarized, it has squeezed out ideological moderates in both parties. Particularly in the Republican Party, more moderate female Republican lawmakers have been undercut, and the more conservative female Republican lawmakers remain. This is critical because female legislators tend to be more effective than men, as well as more moderate, and collaboration- and consensus-oriented.4 With regard to anti-sharia specifically,
iv. 630 of the total 3813 (16.5%) Republican state legislators have sponsored or co-sponsored an antisharia/anti-”foreign law” bill.
v. And 80% of the 102 anti-sharia bills were sponsored or co-sponsored by an overlap legislator, or legislator who sponsored or co-sponsored a restrictive law in another of the six issue areas.
vi. It is critical to note that the greatest overlap with anti-sharia/anti-”foreign law” legislation is not with anti-immigration laws as might be thought but with strict Voter ID laws and Right-to-Work laws. Both of these types of laws negatively and disproportionately impact African-Americans, women and Latinos. Thus, if a lawmaker wants to support legislation marginalizing the most people at one time, antisharia along with Voter ID and/or Right-to-Work would help to achieve that end.
 vii. Although the linkage between anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim advocacy is very strong, research indicates that anti-immigration law proposals are limited in number because of the high political and financial costs of implementing legislation that faces widespread opposition from religious groups and business interests alike5 .
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding: link to pdf of report: http://www.ispu.org/files/PDFs/ISPU%20Manufacturing%20Bigotry[4].pdf

Switzerland to Muslim Students: Shake Your Teacher’s Hand or Pay $5,000

25 May 2016

When two teenage Muslim students from Syria told their school in Switzerland that to shake their female teacher’s hand would violate their religious beliefs, administrators were sympathetic. So they made an exception: Unlike the school’s other students, who shake each teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of each class period, the two boys would be exempt from shaking anyone’s hand at all.

Turns out the Swiss national government takes their handshakes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a regional authority announced Wednesday that the two boys would shake their female teachers’ hands from now on — or pay a $5,000 fine.  The local education department in Therwil, which is near the city of Basel, said in a statement Wednesday that the final decision was made because “the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion.”

This came after the citizenship process for the teens’ family was halted due to the incident. Authorities are now looking into their father’s 2001 asylum claim. He is an imam.

Last month, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga went on television to say that “the handshake is part of our culture.”

“We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom,” she said.

There are roughly 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and it’s unclear whether other exceptions were quietly made before this one. It’s also unclear what the two boys will do next. In an interview with Swiss media, one said they “could not just delete [their] culture as if it were a hard drive.”

Why we talk about Zaha Hadid’s gender and ethnicity even though her architecture transcended both

To say that the sudden death of Zaha Hadid last week has left a gap in architecture is an understatement.

She was a woman in a field dominated by men. An Iraqi-born, secular Muslim who made her home in clubby Protestant England. A flamboyant, cape-wearing figure who was recognizable, Madonna-like, by simply her first name. Most important, she was an architect who pushed the field forward, toward ever more complex, organic shapes that seemed to take their inspiration from the webbed patterns of biological tissue and the globular shapes of cells.

“She charted new territory for all architects with her vision,” architect Sharon Johnston, founding principal at Johnston Marklee, an L.A.-based firm, stated via email. “Zaha’s passion, personality and sheer talent were all essential to her success and her undeniable importance in the history of contemporary architecture.”

She was far more interested in pushing the boundaries of design than of society. And yet, there’s no denying that Hadid’s gender and ethnicity were part of what made her an outsized role model for so many. Hadid, after all, was the first woman to win the Pritzker, architecture’s most prestigious prize, as well as the first female to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects. She was, as Kriston Capps notes over at Citylab, the first real-deal female starchitect — a figure whose name and designs resonated way beyond the architectural community.

In addition to buildings, she also designed jewelry, yachts and even a jelly shoe.

“I never use the issue about being a woman architect,” she told the Guardian in 2004, “but if it helps younger people to know they can break through the glass ceiling, I don’t mind that.”

The focus on her storied career in the wake of her death shows how much it is possible for a woman to achieve — and how much more ground women have yet left to cover.

A report published by the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects last year revealed that though women make up 42% of graduates from programs accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board, they make up only 28% of architectural staff in AIA-member-owned firms, and only 17% of principals and partners.

In addition, a study released this year by the national AIA shows that women and minorities in the United States, two groups underrepresented in architecture, both cite a lack of role models as one of the major reasons the profession remains largely male and white.

The women who do labor in these environments have had to contend with dismissive or downright hostile behavior. In an interview I conducted with architect Denise Scott Brown in 2013, she described everything from direct insults to not being invited to architect parties because she was the “wife.” (She ran a firm with her husband, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Robert Venturi.)

Hadid, who was based in London, had to deal with some bad behavior herself. Anissa Helou, a cookbook author, teacher and chef, was a longtime friend of the architect’s. The two met in the early 1970s, at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend.

“Being a strong woman and a foreigner in London in a man’s field [at the time] did not make it easy for her,” she stated via email. “Also, being so ahead of her time in her thinking and designs and being so uncompromising about what she wanted to do did not help, so she had to contend with a lot.”

When Hadid accepted the Royal Gold Medal earlier this year, she said in her remarks: “We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Moreover, there was the issue of her Iraqi heritage, which wasn’t always well-received.

“It’s a triple whammy,” she told the BBC Radio 4 in February. “I’m a woman, which is a problem to many people. I’m a foreigner — another problem. And I do work which is not normative, which is not what they expect. Together, it becomes difficult.”

In the mid-1990s, Hadid won a competition to design a new opera house in Cardiff, Wales. As concerns about the purpose of the building and its budget hit the press, xenophobic remarks began to surface. One Welsh minister of parliament said that her geometric design was identical to the shrine in Mecca.

“It was disgusting the way I was treated,” Hadid told the New Yorker in 2009. “These British women would tell little jokes. … It was awful. ‘We don’t want a fatwa! Tee-hee!'”

“There were people,” she added, “who wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

Like any high-profile architect, Hadid was expected to produce strong, functional designs. But as a woman, she also faced the added pressure of having her work interpreted as some sort of gender statement. One of her designs for a stadium was compared to female genitalia in the press — something she described as “nonsense.”

“You are vulnerable as a woman because there is pressure for what you represent not just for the profession, but in society,” said Annabelle Selldorf, principal of Selldorf Architects in New York. “She didn’t marry. She didn’t have a family. She didn’t represent the conventional model.”

Hadid also wasn’t the sort of woman who stood around meekly asking for permission to join in, something that made her a significant example to other women.

“She was a big deal for women in architecture and not because she made that her thing,” said Selldorf. “But because she was simply a powerful person. … She was so unequivocal and so powerful. That’s what made her an idol.”

Her toughness, however, was also used against her. Hadid’s imperious manner — directed at architectural selection committees as well as magazine writers and her staff — often got her characterized as a shrew by the press. In fact, much has been made of her “diva” behavior, even in her obituaries.

As Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright noted in an essay last fall, petulant male architects get described with words such as “maverick” instead. When the irascible Philip Johnsondied in 2005, the New York Times referred to him as an “enfant terrible,” a label that comes off as charming and continental.

Certainly, there are aspects to Hadid’s career that are unsavory — such as her work in locations where serious human rights issues have come up (such as the cultural center she designed in Azerbaijan). It’s important, though, to note that in this regard she was no different from some of her male starchitect colleagues — figures such as Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas, who have taken on morally questionable assignments in locations such as Kazakhstan and China, respectively.

But whatever the ramifications of individual buildings, the fact is that Hadid’s death leaves an enormous void. She remains the only individual woman to have won the Pritzker in its nearly 40-year history, and the only woman to have won the Royal Gold Medal in its 168-year history. On so many occasions, she has been the lone female architect in the room — and with her absence, some of those rooms may revert back to being all male.

Women have made tremendous gains in architecture since Hadid launched her career in the 1970s. They build towers and design museums and magazine-worthy weekend homes. But they still remain sorely underrepresented.

Hadid’s death has prematurely taken a powerful emblem from our midst, a woman who commanded respect and prestige — and who didn’t feel the need to be all cuddly about it.

“I just do what I do and that’s it,” she told the BBC nonchalantly back in February.

As far as a whole generation of women architects are concerned, however, what she did was just the beginning.

Are Americans ready for a Muslim president? New poll suggests maybe

A recently released Gallup poll found “tidal shifts” over the past 60 years in Americans’ willingness to support a well-qualified black, female, Catholic or Jewish candidate for president.

But the study also found that 60 percent of Americans would be willing to vote for a president who was a “generally well-qualified person who happened to be Muslim.”

“If the 60 percent is to be used as a proxy of acceptance of Muslims, I am encouraged by an upward trajectory,” wrote Saud Anwar, the mayor of South Windsor, Conn., and that state’s first Muslim mayor.

 

Role of female jihad-recruiters is being underestimated

Experts on the topic of rad

Women are increasingly part of jihadi organizations' recruiting process.
Women are increasingly part of jihadi organizations’ recruiting process.

icalization say that the government should pay more attention to the role of women in recruiting people for the armed jihad in Syria and Iraq. They say this with regard to Shukri F., who is said to have recruited 6 persons for fighting in Syria.

According to researcher Amy-Jane Gielen there should be more focus on their role, but minister Ivo Opstelten (Security and Justice) doesn’t want to distinguish between men and women.

Sharia and English Law: A Secularist Success (The Economist)

The Law Society (a prestigious professional body for solicitors) reversed a guidance note to its members designed to help them formulate an Islamic will. The note recalled, for example, that in many circumstances a male relative can expect to receive twice as much as a female, and that non-Muslims cannot inherit at all.