I was so excited to start reading this book that even amidst Eid preparations during Ramadaan I would squeeze out a few minutes on the last few days to read whatever I could. I remember sitting on the train on my way to work, the poem at the beginning just gripped me. I was literally unable to turn the pages as I kept re-reading lines over and over again.
The structure of the book made it easier to engage with the content, I felt as though I was on a journey with many other readers and Brother Asim himself when moving on from one chapter to another and I hope that you will pick up the book to join in too.
He starts off on the topic of ‘Time and Trauma’, in discussing that time doesn’t really heal trauma and pain for people. In fact, many times these experiences and fears are passed on from one generation to another due to the psychological impact an individual and groups of people face. It is important that we reflect and think about the way that people have responded to their traumas, how they dealt with anxiety and their circumstances, so that we can learn how to treat people better and respond now and in the future. He mentions the importance of learning from history, especially as a third of the Qur’an is Allah relating stories of the past so that we are able to take lessons and act with knowledge and guidance when we are faced with similar trials.
Then, in ‘The Cycles of Iblis, Exodus and Oppression’, he explains that the basic rule of Iblees and his followers (e.g. tyrannical rulers) is to divide the masses and take over with authority and oppressive leadership. Their aim is to distract us through the differences that we have in society, and unfortunately we have played along for so long that it is difficult to see past those differences and realise that everyone is being affected in one way or another. We cannot be bystanders, we cannot be passive in experiencing the injustices that exist in our communities and societies. The first step to build courage in having discussions about our experiences with those that are similar to us and build relationships and networks with people and organisations that also have a vision for there to be systematic changes, not for one ruler to end his or her leadership only for injustice to be passed on from hand to another.
The next chapter ‘A Community of Witnesses’ reminded me of a saying that goes by “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. But how can this be? Of course, by not doing anything and not speaking out against wrongdoing. As a Muslim, especially, my imaan cannot allow me to just watch. We hate the actions with the heart, and use speech and actions to speak even if it is against ourselves. In my final year of studying Sociology, I was particularly interested in how the media has the power to connect people globally through digital media, and to also further divide and separate experiences also. The term ‘distant suffering’ was playing on my mind throughout this book. It is the effect whereby a person can be watching a video of families and children being massacred and still continue to eat their evening meal without being affected. The pain and suffering does not reach us emotionally or physically, and therefore we find it easy to just move on in our lives. Of course, this isn’t the case for all people, but this is the case for many. We are all witnesses to reality and the truth is not hidden from us, and I now, more so than before, feel the responsibility to not allow the truth to be mixed with falsehood or distorted in any way.
In ‘A Matter of Representation’, the discussion of our identity being complex is present. For those who come from a minority background may have multiple factors to be discriminated against. For myself it may be the fact that I am Muslim, female, Bangladeshi and come from a working-class background. The fact that I was born and raised in the UK won’t really be taken into account as there are more factors that show me to be ‘different’ which shouldn’t really be the case. Due to these differences (which shouldn’t be an issue anyway), individuals and groups who physically appear to not look ‘British’ are under closer surveillance by the system and government. The conversations about who and what is British and who and what is not reminds me of Benedict Anderson’s take on the ‘imagined community’. There is no natural way to be or co-exist, we make our societies into the way they are and I just think that everything just falls back to people working towards living in an ideal society where everyone’s beliefs and practices are the same. Obviously, this isn’t realistic. Responses to and reports of crime and incidents of White People and People of Colour are misrepresented and unequal, and so are the socio-economic opportunities that are available. Quoting Jessie Williams, Brother Asim illustrates how the only time different cultures and lifestyles are attractive or accepted is for commercial purposes. Moving onto a political representation of Muslims, we see that those Muslim MP’s are not necessarily representative of the majority of Muslims living in the UK, despite this, their opinions and ideals then become the expected values and ideas of the Muslims. Brother Asim reminds us that true representation is when an individual abides by the truth and is supportive of the group they claim to belong to. After giving the example of Qarun and the secret believer under Fir’awn’s leadership, we see that being part of a group doesn’t necessitate loyalty to the cause. We can see this to be the case as rather than protecting the honour and dignity of Muslims, many counter-terrorism and prevent policies are encouraged and supported by these Muslim influencers in our society, through which mainly Muslims are affected. This is why representation is not enough, in fact, it is useless if these ‘representatives’ have their own agendas.
In the penultimate chapter, ‘A Virtue of Disobedience’, we are taken through 3 stages of resisting to discrimination, oppression and misrepresentation. We are reminded that the perception of individuals and groups are shaped by the media, think tanks and government due to the control they have over language and narratives over the masses. These narratives then shape the way that minorities are treated and suspect communities are created. In order to resist this, we need to utilise 3 things:
- Language – The terminologies and definitions of words that do not have clear meanings are decided and used by those who have authority above us and are thus are able to manipulate us into following and using their definitions. The example given is of the term extremist/extremism, in how our take on extremism is subjective. The government and media have coated this term with links to terrorism, so much so that when someone hears the word ‘extreme’, connotations linked to acts of violence are thought of immediately. What we need to do is take language into our own hands and not allow others to define us, we need to set our own narratives by using alternative terms that do not re-affirm what is told about us. This is how we can have control over what we say about ourselves and others.
- Knowledge – Everyone knows that knowledge is power. Brother Asim states that it emancipates us from ignorance and gives us the awareness that the ignorant do not have. Through banning texts, music with politically incorrect lyrics and programmes, the government tries to hide information, facts from us. We see this to be the case in tyrannical regimes throughout history and even in our current day, where school curriculums brush over world history so that there is more of an emphasis on one’s national history and events. By covering up the truth about Islam by only selectively reading what interests the state, and making it seem as though the Middle East is in desperate need of Western governance, the general conversation about Islam would be that it needs to be reformed through liberal values and ideals and unfortunately even Muslims believe so too. When researching and challenging this, we need to ensure that we don’t make statements without having concrete evidence and knowledge about the issues we speak of. When we have true knowledge, courage and conviction, no one can take that power away from us.
- Community – This isn’t just about working collectively in unison, but being collective in our mind-set and goals for society in getting rid of tyranny, discrimination and oppression. We all have the ability to help and contribute, and to be able to do so, each individual needs to assess their situation and circumstances to see how we can best responsibly take part. It is true that it’s difficult to unite, but going back to the previous chapter, we come to realise that it is the intention and aim of Iblees and his followers to divide the people further until there is no good work to be done. An individual can never do something themselves, it is collective effort and sincerity that motivates, energises and sustains and what is needed for this to happen is discussions on strategies of community efforts that extend nationally and globally.
In the final chapter, ‘Patience on Truth’, we are advised to always be committed to the truth no matter how difficult our situation gets. We are to always bear in mind that People of Colour will always receive backlash for resistance, and thus straying away from the truth or even exaggerating the truth is not honest of us and it will always have a negative impact on our efforts. Brother Asim ends the book with mentioning individuals who stayed truthful in and to their causes and sacrificed their own liberty and safety in order to protect others. It is this act of selflessness that I really admire and take inspiration from. We are reminded of the time in Prophet Yusuf’s life (AS) when he was told he can be released from prison, but he refused until his case was re-opened. Why? He wanted his name to be cleared and he wanted the truth to come out. Despite being imprisoned for years without evidence against him, without an ongoing trial, he remained patient and he did not exaggerate about what happened to him. He remained patient and truthful, honest with himself first and foremost because he knew that Allah is on his side. When we are able to speak the truth and hold on to it, be patient and enjoin righteousness, we know that we are doing the right thing.
There are so many things to reflect on from this book, and I truly believe one needs to read it to know. Of course, this post does no justice to the book and neither is the content remotely close to what’s within the pages, so I really do recommend you to purchase the book as there are plenty of examples from the past and present that we can relate to and understand. I am truly grateful that Allah guided me to my degree and allowed me to complete it, as it was specifically the content in my second and third years that really made me want to explore different types of issues and topics I am passionate about.
I pray that Allah accepts the efforts that Brother Asim has put into his work and this book, and those that continue to work in raising awareness and challenging oppression on a daily basis.
Until next time,