Recently, Dr. Jonathan Brown, an associate professor at Georgetown University and popular Muslim intellectual, announced that he would no longer participate in any Muslim program or conference where the organizers have not made “exhaustive, good faith efforts to include women” on panels and among speakers.
We must acknowledge Dr. Brown’s contributions and willingness to tackle difficult questions. He has addressed issues that are especially challenging in today’s liberal milieu – from the age of ʿĀʾisha, to the infamous wife-beating verse, to the “spread by the sword” thesis. Given some of his traditionalist stances, a simplistic analysis of Dr. Brown would not be in good faith. Additionally, he was nuanced in his demand – he did not condemn “manels” outright, and he clarified that female speakers should be in line with the ideological leanings of organizers. He made aware that some seemingly “valid calls” for events to include women are really just subversive efforts by ideologues to “include participants whose views are marginal, heretical or outside the bounds of Islam altogether.”
Dr. Brown justifies his position by saying that “practicing, committed and qualified Muslim woman scholars (sic)” feel “excluded and alienated”, and thus something must be done. Others may argue that including women on panels would be a good feature of Islamic daʾwa, and thus a bidʾa ḥasana.
This issue raises a few concerns that need discussion.
Why isn’t fiqh foregrounded in these discussions?
بسم الله الرحمن الريم
One of the ideas that’s constantly parroted on the mimbar is that we need more Muslims in the media. This notion is almost entirely false.
The Future of the News
“The media” is dying. What I mean by that is that people are still getting their news – just not from “establishment” sources. More and more, a conglomeration of anonymous bloggers and indie news groups (including YouTube-based news groups) are the ones that people go to for their information. If you don’t believe me, ask any person under the age of 30 when the last time they watched CNN was and see how long it takes them to remember.
The mainstream media is laying off hundreds upon hundreds of workers; the machine is finally coming to a halt. The masses have extreme levels of distrust for mainstream news – especially after the false pretenses of the Iraq invasion, the whitewashing of the bailout for bankers and countless other lies that they have told . Even the most redneck, flag waving American is now aware of the political machinations which the machine swept under the rug for so long. People are tired of a fake, talking head, with contrived laughter and fake news.
Given the state of the media establishment, as well as the advent of the internet, a vacuum is being filled by increasingly powerful indie news groups. These sources can range from a single blogger, to a well-edited YouTube program. The most powerful of these alternative media sources are currently more influential than mainstream news sources. Examples of these include The Young Turks and Alex Jones / Infowars.
One key characteristic about these channels is that their hosts are completely real, will tell you their bias, where they stand and why. They will make no attempt to appear “objective” and will give you their honest opinion. This is what people want. They don’t want a talking head with an earpiece and a fake smile. They don’t want false introductions to guests, or showing bombs while that person is talking so as to circumvent our logical brain with psychological tactics that were discovered in the 50s. People want to see a real human being telling us what they think and with their agenda laid out on the table.
There are now several of these kinds of indie news stations on YouTube, with Jewish talent leading the charge. Here are some examples:
If these look impressive, realize that most of these amount to some guy sitting in his basement. Each of these channels has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and started out with probably under 5 people involved. Channels like these put out the content that influences millennial minds.
Perhaps more powerful than these YouTube channels are the blogs which people sift through on their phones while working some boring office job. The blogosphere has almost entirely replaced newspapers.
Networks and Nodes
A single blog or YouTube channel is not significant enough to influence public opinion. But a conglomeration of interrelated blogs, channels, and forums – all of which share similar beliefs; that is enough to change public opinion.
Currently the blogosphere is divided into several sub-spheres, which further divide into sub-sub-spheres almost ad infinitum. Most of the spheres out there are too insignificant to matter, but several of them have gained traction. These include: the leftist/progressive sphere, the feminist sphere, the manosphere, the alt-Right, the atheist sphere, the conspiracy theory sphere and more. This list is not exhaustive, but the above are what I currently understand to be the most powerful and relevant to Muslims today.
There is also a newly emerging Islamosphere, with its main hub being Muslim Matters. Muslim Matters deals with ideas rather than news and hence is the main medium through which ideas are currently being disseminated to orthodox Muslims in the Anglosphere.
This brings me to another important point; namely that there is a hierarchy inherent in any sphere. I believe the center of any sphere are the people who come up with the main ideas. You then have bloggers who agree with that idea and disseminate it in their own words; but some of whom are original thinkers who further develop those core beliefs or provide new insights. Finally, when enough of an idea network forms, some followers who have adopted the ideas promoted by that sphere will create news channels and artistic material (usually in the form of video satire, memes, etc.) which allow the central ideas and their implicit assumptions to disseminate to the masses. The masses in no way receive the fully reasoned argument for the position being promoted, but rather they consume a conglomeration of arguments, rhetoric, lies and/or misinformation (usually about opponents to the position being proposed), satire, etc. This is the manner in which the masses of people determine their worldview and it is an immutable law within any human society.
Within a sphere, a number of main nodes emerge: the main people who disseminate core ideas, and the main news channels that drive these ideas to the masses in a palpable way. The rest of the sphere feeds off of the main nodes.
Infiltration Is A Waste of Time
The current media strategy of Muslims is to infiltrate mainstream media outlets in hopes of being able to get a talking point or two in. This is a fruitless strategy that is counter to the Quran.
The primary problem is that it gives complete control to a non-Muslim authority who’s using the Muslim to promote his/her own worldview. They are the bosses, the ones in charge, and if you disagree with their agenda they will weed you out. Hence more often than not, Muslims who enter the mainstream media are either selected for already having liberal views, or they are forced to conform their expressed views to the workplace norm such that they become neutered and ineffective. I believe people promoting this course of action think that if we get enough Muslims in, then eventually Muslims will take managerial positions and hence be able to promote more increasingly Islamic views. This is laughable.
I also feel that this endeavor is largely motivated by fear. Is this really what Muslims have been reduced to? Instead of calling to our way of life, we are trying to placate non-Muslims out of fear that they will round us up like the Japanese and German-Americans in World War 2. Many Muslims don’t talk about this, but it is a latent fear within us, especially the older generation who have come from war torn countries.
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْعِزَّةَ فَلِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِلَيْهِ يَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ يَرْفَعُهُ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يَمْكُرُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ ۖ وَمَكْرُ أُولَٰئِكَ هُوَ يَبُورُ
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
One of the important realizations of my life in recent times is that true knowledge has almost nothing to do with conceptual knowledge. Even the affirmation of the kalimah with words is ultimately of secondary importance; what is important is that the recognition of Allah in the heart.
يَوْمَ لَا يَنفَعُ مَالٌ وَلَا بَنُونَ إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى اللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
There’s a hadith that weighs heavily on my conscience as I begin this project (which will no doubt end with the epic defeat of atheism and the reign of God on earth!) It is as follows:
انما الاعمال بالنيات
Actions are only by their intentions.
When I first heard this hadith, it was kind of a feel good “oh that sounds nice and very prophety of the prophet to say,” then I kind of just went about my day. It was much later when the importance of this small little saying dawned on me. On a certain level this refers to an obvious ethical precept, namely that intent must be established for any crime or good deed. Even the legal system acknowledges this; if I push a person in front of a bus, then it’s not murder unless I did so intentionally. Heck you might push someone in front of a bus in an attempt to save their lives, but simply fail to do so.
In this sense, a person’s intention makes all the difference. I’ve even noticed this in movies now-a-days where writers increasingly try to create “multi-dimensional” villains by getting the reader to sympathize with their intentions; despite the obvious horror of their crimes. You see, that serial killer is not really a bad person, they tell us, he only does what he does because he was abused as a child. In fact, the seriousness of intent is so evident to the human race, that you can even make villains into heroes by portraying their intentions in a positive light. This is now becoming an entire genre of Hollywood (think Pirates of the Caribbean, where you’re literally cheering for thieves who make their livelihood by robbing the hard-work and toil of honest men and terrorizing them.)
While I do think there is a point to be made by showing multi-dimensional villains, and exposing the good intentions of a villain to the viewer, overall I think Hollywood is desensitizing the general population’s sense of morality by justifying the evil actions of villains. This translates to people justifying their own actions by reference to their intentions. You see, very few people, in their own eyes, are villains. Very few people think that they are bad people. Very few people admit, confess, acknowledge, and deeply regret their evil actions, despite their intentions.
If you ask a cheater why they did it, 9 times out of 10 they are not going to say “because I’m a terrible person who could not control their urges. I failed to control the beast within. I recognize that countless others have been in exactly the same position that I was in, and chose to do the right thing; I simply lack the self control and moral fortitude.” Most of the time, they will tell you about how horrible their marriage was going, how they didn’t feel loved, etc. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important, because they are.
In fact, nobody sympathizes with us about our circumstances, how we were feeling, and our intentions more than Allah, who is closer to us than our jugular vein. He knows full well exactly what we’re going through, and thus He is the Most Compassionate with regards to our circumstances. He knows us so intimately that we really do not even need to explain our circumstances to Him because He “experienced” it with us. I believe on Judgement Day, Allah will know and understand these things, and it is partially in this that my hope lies for His Mercy. I can almost see myself begging Him: God, you knew how difficult it was for me to control this nafs, you know how much I struggled to still my tongue, and you know how the outburst of anger and rebellion came upon me like a sudden wave. I’m truly sorry, I couldn’t control the beast within. But why wait for Judgement Day to make this confession, when Allah is Ever-Present, Watching?
Allah the Exalted says:
بَلِ الْإِنسَانُ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ بَصِيرَةٌ, وَلَوْ أَلْقَىٰ مَعَاذِيرَهُ