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Phoenix: “OH NO, Shariah Is Coming!” Cry Protesters Without A Cause

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Top: “Peaceful protesters” Bottom: “Rioters”

Original guest article

By Hakeem Muhammad

Of the numerous protests that have been taking place across America the most notable has been the Black Lives Matter movement, which originated as a response to the systemic police brutality directed towards Black Americans. Of course, this serious social issue was completely ignored in a recent protest outside of a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona; wearing shirts that stated, “F*ck Islam,” armed protesters gathered outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.

In the manifesto of the protest, the organizers stated, “Our enemy, that we are taking a stance against, is the precepts of sharia law and all it entails.” The protests in Phoenix included a contest in which participants drew derogatory and inflammatory pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. During a CNN interview with host Anderson Cooper, the protest organizer, Jon Ritzheimmer stated that he was motivated by not wanting to live in fear for his life, and that his children deserved a future.

​Yet what was the source of this man’s fear? Was he worried that police officers would mistake his children for criminals and shoot them? Was he concerned about living in a ghetto created by a history of racist housing policies? Or was he worried about being pulled over while driving because of his skin color? No, racial profiling and being pulled over without probable cause were not the source of his fear; he was concerned about the spread of “Sharia law” from Muslims, and believed it was time to take a stand against Islam and Muslims.

​Who should really be afraid—Blacks, who are still battling the continued legacy of racist laws (Black code and Jim Crow laws), which cause tangible problems in many areas of their lives and threaten their safety, or a protestor who is worried about Sharia being instated? The man was protesting something that hadn’t even happened!

​It has become common in Islamophobic discourse for individuals to express fear over the possibility of Sharia being imposed upon them, as if it is some sort of imminent existential threat to the so-called “free, enlightened world.” Yet history shows that African Muslim slaves—many of whom were scholars of Islamic law—were the ones harmed by dangerous laws (which were Eurocentric).

​In her book, “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas,” Sylviane A. Diouf notes that enslaved African Muslims entered into “a White Christian world determined to wipe out any trace of ‘paganism’ or ‘Muhammadanism.’” At the time, corporal punishment was a possible consequence of the open expression of the Islamic faith, resulting in Muslims keeping their faith as secretive as possible.

Diouf concludes, “All the conditions were thus present for a rapid disappearance of Islam in America, or even for its non-emergence.” Due to the strong persecution of Islam, its African adherents were robbed of the ability to pass their faith on to their descendants.

​Despite this, African Muslims attempted to preserve the core tenets of their faith. The first texts produced in America on Islamic law were created by an enslaved African, Bilali Muhammad, in Sapelo Island, Georgia. The Bilali document simply informed other enslaved Muslims of their various religious duties, such as purifying themselves before prayer, how and when to pray, and when to fast. Bilali Muhammad never had a hidden agenda to impose Sharia, not even when he fought in the War of 1812 on America’s side against the UK.

​The narrative of the slave Omar ibn Said recounts the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. He was forced to obey a cruel master, who punished him harshly for open expressions of his Islamic faith, including merely kneeling to pray. This persecution led to a newspaper boasting that a “Mohammedan” had converted to Christianity; yet contemporary research suggests that his conversion to Christianity was merely a survival strategy.

Later, when Omar ibn Said was much older, he wrote that he had largely forgotten his native tongue, as well as how to write Arabic in a grammatically correct manner, which was most likely due to lack of use. A fundamental part of his heritage had been robbed from him due to the imposition of Eurocentric law, which prevented him from using his own language and freely worshiping as he chose.

​It is ironic that, having such a history as the foundation of the United States, descendants of those who created such a cruel social system are now expressing fear regarding the possibility of Muslims imposing Sharia. Enslaved African Muslims had Eurocentric law violently imposed upon them, and have never imposed Sharia law upon non-Muslims.

The Global Imposition of Eurocentric Law

​Continuing with the theme of laws being imposed on peoples, take another actual instance of imposition: post-Enlightenment France actually colonized a Muslim society in Senegal while massacring local Islamic scholars. The French passed laws forbidding Muslims from making Hajj, which is a fundamental tenet of the faith. Contradicting the modern perceptions of Muslims as “violent terrorists,” the Senegalese Islamic scholar Ahmadou Bamba urged Muslims to engage in a pacifist struggle that included fasting and praying. Yet this was threatening enough to the French that they exiled Ahmadou Bamba. Today, he has over 3 million followers, far surpassing the devotees of various violent movements in the Muslim world.

​As with other law systems, Sharia is open to atrocious misuse and abuse as has been manifested in its application by modern extremist groups. Islamophobes associate Sharia with the Taliban, although their ranks consist of war refugees who are largely uneducated in Islamic law.

Women’s Rights

​Rather than denying women the right to an education, in Sokoto (a pre-Colonial West African society), a female scholar of Islamic law named Nana Asmau initiated a mass-education campaign for women. She cited Aisha bint Abu Bakr, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, as an influence. Nana Asmau was a scholar of Islamic law and issued fatwas, such as one that declared the usage of tobacco as Haram (forbidden).

​Historian Jean Boyd declares that within Sokoto, “To deny women equal opportunity to develop their God-given talents was to challenge God’s will.” Nana Asmau is lauded even by non-Muslim African feminists, and is considered to be the precursor of modern feminism in Africa—even though she was a Muslim woman with an Islamic worldview.

​How did this society in which women had freedom to pursue knowledge end? By the colonialism of the British Empire, which imposed Eurocentric laws upon the indigenous people. While Islamic law in West Africa permitted women to have property rights, the British Empire’s law denied women this right, despite supposedly being a more “advanced” society!

A Big Distraction

​Throughout West Africa, Muslims were ruthlessly subjugated by a variety of repressive Eurocentric laws that forbade them from openly practicing their faith. In America, enslaved Africans had even stricter laws—they were denied the right to read or write, and as the women were considered property, the slave masters were free to rape them at will without penalty—and were systemically prohibited from passing Islamic teachings to their descendants.

​After slavery was abolished, Black code laws and the subsequent Jim Crow laws solidified White Americans’ place at the top of the social hierarchy. Even now, the legacy of years of discrimination remains. This is demonstrated by the fact that Black Americans are more likely to be victims of police brutality and racial profiling, and are more likely to live in impoverished neighborhoods.

​Protesters who have the time to organize themselves and protest outside of a mosque to express a fear about a foolish belief that Sharia is going to take away their rights need to learn about the very real problems of the world, including the systemic, structural racism that exist as a legacy of Jim Crow laws.

​These White men who protested about something that has not happened and enjoy White privilege have no idea what it’s like to be discriminated against based on race. Perhaps this supposed fear of Sharia is really a big distraction to prevent people from addressing the real serious issues: the legacy of Black code Jim Crow laws, which are interfering with citizens’ lives even today.

About the Author: Hakeem Muhammad is a 20-year old African-American Muslim who currently studies political science at West Georgia University. God willing, in the future he plans to study Islamic theology and be a positive force for social change. You can find him at his website www.hakeemmuhammad.com and on twitter at @hakeemtheroots.

Sources for further reading:

-Bilali Muhammad: Muslim Jurisprudist in Antebellum Georgia,

-Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, by Sylviane A. Diouf, award-winning historian.

-A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said(Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography)

-Five Classic Muslim Slave Narratives by Muhammad A Al-Ahari

-Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise by Kenneth B. Nunn

-One Woman’s Jihad, Nana Asma, by Jean Boyd.

-Boyd, Jean (Editor); Mack, Beverly (Editor). African Historical Sources, Volume 9: Collected Works of Nana Asma’u: Daughter of Usman Dan Fodiyo, (1793-1864). East Lansing, MI, USA: Michigan State University Press, 1997. p 282

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  • Nur

    I bought a bag of shrimp flavored crisps with my hate money, and because I didn’t have any change, I shared the crisps with the person that gave me the money.

  • Jekyll

    Her crapy samosas were probably awful anyway. Her childhood melodrama with Adanan is also probably sloppy.

  • Jekyll

    Libtards and secular priests offering their “leadership” to solve problems.
    I would have to double check Bajwa, since I really don’t think he would something like this.
    Of course not surprised to see Rabia the penguin and whimpering probably lying Taherra Ahmed. As Sana Saaed wrote “it’s a nice coy group of generally SOUTH ASIANS giving their Zionist appeasing solution to Pl” (pharaprasing)

  • The greenmantle

    People come back ? I thought it a one way ticket ?

    Sir David

  • Mehdi

    OK, I need to leave and we reached limits on where to agree or disagree, just some last points:
    – Takfir is not just silly, it leads to violence
    – Dialogue for me is not a warm fuzzy chat over tea and scones, it’s more ambitious than that
    – Islam is indeed a religion and I didn’t say otherwise, when I mentioned culture it was about other influences (e.g. andalusian or berber or others). But when you say there is no point if you toss prescription, does it mean that people should be forced to adopt these prescriptons? Some people don’t want that and shouldn’t be forced, no compulsion.
    Take care.

  • Mehdi

    I’ll try to keep my response short, I think we know where our agreements are and disagreements.

    I expressed myself wrongly maybe on the points on equalities or public transport, but these appear as European concepts when you live in North Africa and I just meant that in some cases these were positive things that are worth considering.

    Regarding divorce, the excessive examples you raise are indeed not appealing to me, I’m just not sure of what we can do about them. And indeed I’m against Eltahawy’s recent book.

    I know you didn’t mean to impose views on people in the Muslim world, my point was that your opinions are based on the frustration you feel in your US context and applying it to these countries doesn’t always work. It’s like people here telling Muslim girls that they shouldn’t wear hijabs because it’s forced upon women in Iran or Afghanistan, not only is that a different context, but in the end it’s about what these women want to do, nothing more nothing less.

    Regarding Tunisia, I had dinner with some Tunisian Jewish friends some time ago, and we talked about food and when they mentioned tunisian food I responsed that I didn’t know it existed 🙂 I’m maybe biased as a Moroccan but Tunisia doesn’t have a strong reputaiton when it comes to food.

    On your point “It would be easier to have a nice exchange of ideas if there weren’t so many drones buzzing around. :)”, true, but Morocco doesn’t have drones buzzing around, neither does Tunisia, nor Algeria, nor even Egypt, and several Arab countries. Besides, I talk about building bridges with people, not the Western governments or armies.

    On the point “I think I’ve come to this point of resentment because the culture of “freedom and democracy” as well as “helping women” has been used to justifying decimating countries through sustained bombing campaigns”, as you said these were excuses and should be exposed as such. Now that doesn’t that we shouldn’t address such issues, some of these are real problems in the Muslim world, we should address them BUT ourselves and find our own solutions.

    Regarding the Reza Aslan article I saw it differently, my take on his post is that if Muslims want a more inclusive society that provides them a stronger role, they should also accept that principle for others, that’s how I read it, and I kind of agree.

    Regarding Islam as a bulwark, I’m cautious, because the term bulwark sounds defensive to me. Islam is at the core of the identity of the Arab world and that will not change, but there are other cultural identities at play and currently takfir is on the rise in many countries, I see many movements bringing up Islam as a bulwark and then excluding people from other religions, shias, or people not considered Muslim enough. I defend Islam’s role but I don’t want this to be defensive. And many developments are not about more or less Islam.

  • Mehdi

    Lots of valid points, I don’t there are unreconcilable views, but let me give you some of my points on your answers.
    – The percentages to weigh in on accountability or responsibility doesn’t really matter, I think that what matters is when it comes to what solution to seek. Weighing on Syria doesn’t mean that I think Western interventions can help there, quite the contrary. I also try to be precise on the root causes and I don’t like to refer to Islam as a whole either as a factor.
    – In the end, the sad reality is that there are no simple answers, take Syria for instance, blaming it all on Islam won’t help on anything, same regarding blaming Assad, KSA, Iran, the US, Turkey, or any actor, we are in a horrible mess and will all lose from it, and need a collective responsible negotiation to help find a political solution. That’s easier said than done…
    – I understand the point on over emphasizing Western responsibilities, in my case it’s about who the debate is with, when talking with some colleagues who have little understanding of the mideast, my response sounds like yours, reminding them of historical facts, pushing them to go beyond the content they get on the daily news and read other views. When I’m sitting with a childhood friend who tells me “the west the west the west…” I tend to tell the person that some self criticism and personal responsibility is important. It’s all about who I talk with, and also about helping people reach common grounds, I’m interested in seeing people with different views trying to understand each other more, even if disagreements remain, especially as I think that it doesn’t take much for people to understand each other better.
    – Regarding the West’s decline, I agree, it’s a historical process but it is relative, I think we are moving to a more balanced world powermap, a bit like before the combined decline of China and India in the 19th century due to colonialism. But that doesn’t mean stability or more justice, nor does it mean that the West will become irrelevant, it will still be an important actor but will have to cope with regional powers, as Russia, Iran or Turkey in the mideast, Brazil in latin America, etc.
    – When you say”Frankly, the last thing I want to see is for Muslim-majority countries go the way of the West”, on this point, it really depends what we talk about, consumerism is something I am unhappy to see. Divorce isn’t in my opinion a Western value, historically Islam has been more relaxed about divorce than catholicism for instance, and for some women I know it was a liberation to divorce. For feminism depends what we talk about, I enjoyed reading a recent article from Moroccan feminists asking the Femen never to show up and telling them that they had been working for ages on local issues and didn’t need their lectures, there are excessive forms of feminism and reasonable ones, it’s about Women to decide locally and they do so, quietly. But beyond these examples, I’m in favor of the “the way of the West” if it means more democratic elections and institutions, economic equality, modern public infrastructure for electricity or water supply, subsidized public transportation systems, more freedom of speech, etc. Again there are bad Western values and also good ones.
    – About the latter point, being less influenced by the West doesn’t necessarily mean doing things better, in most North Africa, people are more demonstrative on their Muslim identity now than they were 30 years ago, on some points it’s positive, but at the same time there are many indicators that have gone up, such as corruption, some forms of violence that didn’t exist before, etc.
    – Regarding your point “I tend to resent the “liberal secular” forces in Muslim-majority countries and not want to see them succeed.”, I have 2 comments: the first one is that it’s about people there to decide what they want (for instance your views or disappointment on Tunisia are based on a short stay in Tunis which is very different from the conservative south, saying it’s an impoverished version of France is in my opinion a bit harsh, Tunisia has more than that). The second is that the term “liberal secular forces” is quite vague in the region, it clearly doesn’t apply to Sissi for instance, very few countries can really be viewed as holding secular political systems, for instance Turkish AKP is much more secular in its references and discourses than all socialist and communist parties in North Africa combined.
    That’s the problem with terms like “liberal”, secular, islamist, they work like labels and don’t really help understand what happens on the ground.
    I have the same point on Western vs Traditional values, these are complex issues to which there are different points of view and no simple answer, my concern is finding common grounds, as Edward Said said once “As I said, the genius of Arab civilization at its height in, say, Andalusia was its multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic diversity.”, I want to see societies in Europe and the US with more openness to influences from the rest of the world, and similarly I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue if Arab societies open to other influences, including Western ones, they already do anyway, it’s just about having good ones in.
    That doesn’t mean things are simple, I am familiar with the Arab/Muslim world and also with the West, I feel comfortable with both, and try to work out the best out of two, that’s not easy, you tend to get confronted with bigotry from all sides but in the end I prefer that, I don’t want to force my views on people in any case, what I try to do is help build bridges between different sides, as none will disappear.

  • The greenmantle

    I thought it neighbourly as well
    Sir David

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