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.

Tennessee man who planned attack against Muslim community sentenced to 20 years in prison

A former Congressional candidate from Tennessee Valley has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for plotting to burn down a mosque, a school and a cafeteria in upstate New York.

Robert Doggart, 65, was sentenced on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, where he was convicted in February of trying to recruit people to commit arson and violate civil rights.

Doggart’s plan was to attack, Islamberg, a community started by a group of African-American Muslims who moved from U.S. cities in the 1970s, is a gated community with dirt roads and several dozen small homes near the town of Hancock in New York’s Catskills Mountains.  The 200 or so members of the community, in which children are home-schooled and residents worship at a mosque built on the 70-acre property, follow a Pakistani Sufi cleric.

Doggart was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in April 2015 after saying in wiretapped telephone calls that he planned to recruit a militia and travel to Islamberg.

“It’s not just a war with Islam or Islamberg,” explained Saeed Mody, a prosecutor from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “It’s a war with the federal government.”

Islamic Gatehouse Bank to aid UK housing crisis

November 28, 2013

 

Britain’s mainstream banks may be reluctant to lend these days, but a Kuwait-backed Islamic bank is to become one of Britain’s biggest residential landlords with a plan to build 6,600 rental homes and gain from the shortage in decent housing stock. It promises to be one of the biggest privately run home building projects ever. Shariah-compliant Gatehouse Bank hopes to gain from the big shift in the country’s housing market away from buying to renting, as mortgages have become more scarce and unaffordable and prices have risen out of the grasp of many families. Gatehouse already has a £1bn property portfolio across the UK and US.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/islamic-gatehouse-bank-to-aid-uk-housing-crisis-8971137.html

Florida Parents Protest Textbook With Chapter About Islam

November 6, 2013

 

Parents upset about a history textbook that they say emphasizes Islam more than other religions protested outside Volusia County school district headquarters.

The parents claim that the book contains too much information about Islam and not enough about Christianity and other religions. There was even a call by organizers asking students to go home and tear the section on Islam out of their books.

Because tearing up (or burning?) books is always the proper response to such things.

The county district was forced to postpone a Tuesday meeting “in the interest of public safety.”

“This group is holding a protest and rally to oppose the teaching of the historical and basic pillars of Islam to students in Volusia County,” said Hassan Shibly, Florida executive director of CAIR, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.

“It is displaying an alarming level of intolerance and brazen disregard of minority religions… We find their actions un-American and against every core principal that makes this country so great.”

The textbook in question, Prentice Hall World History, protesters claim, devotes an entire chapter to Islam and teaches children about how it came to be and about the building of the Muslim empire, while Christianity and Judaism are referenced only in small paragraphs here and there.

And we can see the problem here: Where in America will the children learn about Christianity?

Of course, the protesters claim that this is in no way about getting all worked up and encouraging kids to vandalize a schoolbook because they think Islam is un-American and evil.

It’s about religious equality!

You know, with all the crazy things going down in Florida, such as a law that makes it perfectly legal for a person to shoot and kill another person because he or she feels threatened, and with people with serious medical conditions that can be alleviated only with medical marijuana having their homes raided by cops like they’re the leader of a drug cartel, it’s good to know there are citizens out there tackling the truly important issues.

 

Broward-Palm Beach New Times: http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2013/11/florida_parents_protest_textbo.php

 

“Muslims are in the Streets like it’s their home:” In Borgo Allegri, citizens are exhausted

The residents of Borgo Allegri in Florence are exhausted, as they protest against the deterioration of their neighborhood in an area surrounding the city’s Islamic Cultural Center. The place of prayer has existed since 2007 and is located in the back of an old warehouse, not very spacious and extremely close to surrounding homes. The Muslim community, over the years, has increased in number (a community that is 30,000 strong in Florence) and this increase is paralleled by a worsening situation in the area: fights, late night noise and loitering on the sidewalk and in front of the place of prayer and other illegal activities.

The most difficult time was during Ramadan (a month of prayer, during which the Islamic center was stormed) and every Friday during the rest of the year: during these times residents stay in, and don’t have company over to their homes, staying locked in their homes. “We have signatures and we have asked for help from over 100 organizations and no one will help” explained Laura Battistoni, a resident of the area, who yesterday sent an email to Mayor Matteo Renzi, explaining the difficulties in the area around the Islamic Center.

“The crux of the matter is that there is no more law in this space: everyone does what they want. The faithful who come to the Islamic Center pray in terrible conditions, stretching out on rugs in the middle of the street, eating on the sidewalks. They pray at 4 am, often using a megaphone, making it impossible for anyone to sleep.”

The problem is not only from the residents in the area. “We are the cradle of the renaissance” said one resident “but we have a bad image abroad. There are tourists who have complained, and discourage others from renting a home in the area.” The faithful are also sometimes the most educated of the Italians, most of them are good people, but tourists do not expect this commotion on the street. Women and the elderly are afraid. I think being able to sleep at night and come and go freely from home, at any time , is within the rights of a citizen,” says the resident.

“The Muslims also have a right to pray, but it is only right to that they have a safe and dignified place to do so.” In this regard, that the Imam of Florence Elzir Izzedin asks for a mosque in the city. This has raised many issues like whether to allow it and where to put it. A number of places have been identified including southern Florence in viale Nenni.

 

Bomb disposal experts are called to mosque in Walsall after suspicious item discovered

Police examining a suspicious item found in a Walsall mosque have confirmed they are treating the incident as a hate crime. A police spokesperson said an explosion was heard by residents on Friday evening. On Saturday, the item was discovered by a member of the public and handed into the police. Superintendent Keith Fraser, the head of crime and operations for Walsall Police, said the incident was being treated as hate crime but the motive for placing the item near a mosque remained unclear.

 

Army experts ordered the evacuation of nearly 40 homes near the Rutter Street mosque in Walsall, West Midlands Police said. “We have launched a full investigation into the suspicious item that has been found, and what’s going to be the key to this is the public’s help in relation to helping us to understand why that suspicious item was in the area. ”So if anybody saw anything over the weekend I’d like them to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers  0800 555 111 .”

 

Officials from Walsall Council are working closely with the emergency services to support local people and minimise disruption in the area. Zahid Ali, Cabinet Member for Public Protection at Walsall Council, also spoke outside the mosque. Describing the incident as “unfortunate”, Mr Ali added: “It’s absolutely wonderful to see that the communities have come together supporting the residents, and most of those residents are now back in their homes.”

 

Zia Ul-Haq, who acts as a spokesman for the mosque and also sits on its committee, said: “First of all can I thank the police force and the local council for really supporting us on this occasion.

Oxford sex abuse: ‘Victorian’ misogyny is evident in all cultures which emphasise female purity

The distressing details of the Oxford child abuse case raise echoes of a similar case last year, involving the grooming of children for sex in Rochdale. In both, under-age white girls were the victims. All or most of the perpetrators were Asian men. The girls were from vulnerable backgrounds, including local authority care homes. Drugs, alcohol and violence were used to coerce the girls – and in both cases other men paid to use the girls for sex. The greatest difference lay in the motivation of the two groups of abusers, according to Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadan Foundation, a Muslim youth organisation, who was one of the first Asian community leaders to acknowledge that a disproportionate number of the men involved in on-street grooming were British Pakistanis. “The Rochdale abusers were taxi drivers and takeaway workers using the girls for quick sex. When they took money from other men to have sex with the girls the amounts were around £20-£30 a time,” “Oxford is much more to do with money. The men exploiting the girls were charging others £200-£600 a time and bringing eight to 10 men a day into hotels and restrooms. It was much more organised.” Police, social workers, academics and children’s charity workers all agree that most abusers are white and most child sex exploitation happens in the home. Journalist Allison Pearson wrote a blistering blog post in the Telegraph condemning the police, social services, and legal system’s fear of being seen as racist, which meant hundreds of girls were betrayed by the very mechanisms that were meant to protect them. What is really to blame, it is more generally suggested, is an oversensitivity by police and social workers terrified of being accused of racism. “Sensitivities over race should not be allowed to take precedence over children’s safety,” editorials have pontificated, as if anyone could seriously hold the opposite view. All this is accompanied by sanctimonious assurances that no one is suggesting that all Asians, Pakistanis or Muslims should be tarred with the same smeary brush. But much of the coverage subliminally invites exactly that. Statistics have been trotted out supposedly to substantiate this. Yet academics seriously studying the phenomenon say that figures have been used selectively to create certainties where none exist. She called Pakistani Muslim culture a “Victorian” society where men are taught that women have no value and can be used as sex objects, especially white girls, who, because of their greater freedom as compared to Pakistani Muslim girls, are freely available to be used and abused by these Asian men. It’s fairly obvious from the discussions on this issue that while Islam is not a race, “Islam” is being used as a euphemism or shorthand for Asian men from Muslim countries. Why not admit that there is an element of misogyny in all religions and cultures that emphasise sexual purity in women and divide girls into “good” and “bad” categories? For example, American Mormon kidnap survivor Elizabeth Smart recently told the press that abstinence classes – a hallmark of American Christian culture which is popular in some British circles – taught her that being raped made her no more worthwhile than a “chewed up piece of gum”. Perhaps the only thing that distinguishes these particular criminals from non-Muslim, non-Asian paedophiles is their modus operandi of working in gangs to systematically groom girls on the street. Other paedophiles have different setups: chatting from the safety and anonymity of their homes, for example, exchanging child pornography through hidden servers on the Internet, or worming their way into the hearts of their mothers and grandmothers before attacking them in their homes. So the rabble-rousing demand that all Muslims in the UK should “integrate” while at the same time demonising them as “other”, using the Oxford sex ring criminals – who would be regarded as scum in Pakistan – as representative of all Pakistani Muslim men is an object lesson in false equivalence. All of this confounds the lazy stereotypes about sex and race peddled by those in search of a sensationalist headline. The truth is not just more complicated but less conducive to reinforcing readers’ prejudices. Opportunity is as likely a factor as race here. Young vulnerable girls gravitate to a night-time economy where the taxi drivers and takeaway workers they encounter are more likely to be Asian. So why not headlines about “Taxi Sex Gangs”? Throughout our contemporary epidemic of child sex abuse, occupation seems just as significant a factor – as the wave of accusations against 1970s televisions celebrities, soap stars, music teachers, care workers and Catholic priests shows. The truth is that sexual predation is about power and its abuse by people in positions of authority. Culpability for the failure to combat it is often to be laid at the door of institutions more anxious to protect their reputations than concerned to protect the innocence of a child. There is another danger in peddling stereotypes. It diverts attention from the wider areas in which we should all be vigilant. The Oxford case raises a wide range of issues about the assumptions and systems of social workers, nine out of 10 of whom knew the girls were being groomed for sex by men who gave them drugs. It requires scrutiny of police procedures and the management of care homes. It should ask questions of the owners of the guesthouses in which the abuse took place, and of parents and of the public, for we all have a duty to ask questions about dubious-looking relationships.

The Oxford sex ring shows how the sexual manners of a new place can be tragically misinterpreted

The case of child abuse in Oxford has been much covered, and from a number of angles. A gang of individuals abducted young girls and raped them repeatedly. Some of the girls were introduced to crack cocaine and heroin to make their dependency on the men stronger. Others were branded to show that they belonged to one of their abusers, or given home-devised abortions. The police were slow to take action, despite being very regularly approached by victims and those who knew what was going on. A guest in a hotel was so disturbed by the noise he heard from the room next door that he phoned the police. That is one way of putting it. Another is to draw attention to the fact that here, and in a case in Rochdale last year, the abusers were mostly of Pakistani origin and all Muslims. The victims were all young white girls. There are cases pending for more gang-related grooming and rape offences where the same is true. The police and some media outlets, including the BBC, declined to draw any attention to this fact. You might point out, too, that there are plenty of white abusers and rapists, and conclude that the race of these abusers is of no significance. Or you might go down the BNP route and imply that there is something rotten at the heart of Islam itself. Between the well-meaning liberal account and the ugly BNP version, the truth lies. Race was clearly an important factor for the rapists themselves, who targeted white girls. But it is ridiculous to suggest that there is anything fundamental in the culture prizing the rape of children. Manners of sexual exchange are notoriously changeable from one society to another, and notoriously difficult to interpret. When a gay cardinal forces himself on a junior, we may guess that a shadowy and unsocialised life may not have trained him in the manners of request and acceptance. All he has to go on is what he wants. We have to talk about race in the Oxford and Rochdale cases – we mustn’t pretend it wasn’t an important feature. But race was not the defining feature. What drove these men was deracination: a detachment from one culture, and a failure to attach or understand another. At some level, they believed that they could get away with this because nobody cared about these girls, abandoned in care homes. At another, they no doubt believed, or said to each other that they believed, that white girls were all whores, that anyone who dressed and behaved like that would be happy to be given heroin and have sex with half a dozen men before she was 13 years old.

UK Independence Party Member Suspended for Anti-Muslim Comments

7 May 2013

 

Tony Nixon, a UK Independence Party (UKip) member from Guisborough who canvassed nearly 800 homes for the party in the most recent election, has been suspended by the UKip for allegedly posting anti-Muslim material on his Facebook page. Mr. Nixon’s page contained a number of anti-Muslim jokes advocating the destruction of Mosques and calling Islam “The Crime Against Humanity.” Mr. Nixon also “liked” right wing groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), saying that the EDL and the UKip are on the same side “in the fight against traitors to Britain.”

 

The UKip did surprisingly well in the recent County Council elections held earlier this month, winning 153 council seats and finishing ahead of the Conservative party candidates in 500 council seats across the country. The party calls for an overhaul of the immigration system in the United Kingdom, advocating a five year freeze on permanent settlement and withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Convention on Refugees. In response to the allegations against Mr. Nixon, the party said, “We do not condone racist or any other inappropriate comments and regard them as totally abhorrent and if anyone else is discovered acting in such an appalling way they will be thrown out of the party.”

 

North Yorkshire police are aware of Mr. Nixon’s alleged comments and are currently investigating the matter.

Al-Jazeera hopes Current TV purchase will give it access to more American homes

Since its launch in 2006, al-Jazeera TV’s English-language news channel has racked up prestigious journalism awards for its reporting on international issues, including the Arab Spring uprisings. The problem: Hardly anyone sees al-Jazeera English (AJE) because few cable TV operators carry it.

On Wednesday, al-Jazeera’s owner — the emir of the oil- and natural gas-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar — sought to change that.

Al-Jazeera will pay an undisclosed sum — unconfirmed reports said $500 million — for Current TV, the little-watched but widely distributed cable network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore. Al-Jazeera doesn’t want Current for its name or programming; it wants Current’s entree into American households. Al-Jazeera will start a new channel called al-Jazeera America that will produce news for and about Americans. It will instantly have access to about 50 million cable homes that Current reaches, more than 10 times AJE’s distribution.

 

The deal could mark a new era in a new hemisphere for a news organization that helped smash government control of information in the Arab world. Al-Jazeera — the name means “the peninsula” in Arabic — transcended national censors when it began broadcasting across the Middle East via satellite in 1996.

But its attempts to enter the rich media markets of the West haven’t been quite as revolutionary.