I Refuse to Condemn is not the type of book I find easy to review; it's a complex interweaving of the personal and the structural rooted in the writers' difficult, painful experiences. Although I attempted to review it in this post, I considered that more a collection of thoughts. In such cases, I like to highlight particular lines or chapters that struck me, so I thought I would do so in this post.
Note: I was provided with an advanced review copy of this book by the publisher and editor with no conditions attached.
Remaking Rule #1: 'I -Utterly- Refuse to Condemn...' by Shenaz Bunglawala
What if communication isn't just about what is said by a speaker, but about the integrity of the content being communicated, the agency inherent in the act of speaking out? What happens with the dissolution of this agency when the speaker parrots not their own words but words chosen to mollify an audience, is it possible for a Muslim to be ambivalent about something like this?
After the powerful and personal introduction by editor Asim Qureshi, I felt that this chapter was a strong start to the collection. It broke down the discussion around the book's topic, the expectation for Muslims to explicitly condemn violent acts by Muslims, in a way that was clearly developed and rooted in a tangible reality. Of course, I'm not suggesting that only numbers and tangible measures are of value in such a discussion, but I found it insightful and took a different approach to other pieces in the collection.
The Four Stages of Moral Panic by Adam Elliott-Cooper
News items exploring questions relating to racism which have little tangible effect on people's lives, perhaps only distantly connected to the realities of racism (affecting housing, employment, immigration status, criminal justice or health), can create the impression that anti-racism is a somewhat petty culture war.
Reading this was a moment of realisation for me.
Hearing young Black people recount stories of violence and drug distribution is met with wide eyes and open mouths. And while we should always be shocked at stories from our streets in which harm is caused or risk is taken in the possession and sale of criminalised drugs, can we really be surprised?
Navigating Refusal Within the Academy by Shereen Fernandez and Azeezat Johnson
Something which I had to grapple with alone in my own fieldwork was the feeling of familiarity; the fact that I could see myself in my participants' experiences and narrations. This became a source of being both protective and defensive when it came to my research and more importantly, my participants. Rather than see it as a limitation, I argue that such a connection elevates our research to higher standards of accountability which so often is ignored in academia.
Working in these spaces is predicated on the suppression of emotional responses to the violence we and our loved ones face: we are asked to cut out parts of who we are to fit within the confines of academic debate.
Secular academia and Prevent is not a combination any Muslim is excited to engage with. This piece brought some difficult feelings to the surface for me. May Allah give us courage when we need it, wisdom in our silence and forgiveness for our shortcomings.
The (Im)Possible Muslim by Yassir Morsi
The part of us as humans that exists on 'land' presents no problem for me to conceptualise. I am Egyptian, British, Australian, I am a psychologist, I am academic. I am the sum of my lived experiences; my everydayness, my lineage and heritage. However, the second part of us, the half of the boat in the 'water', our extra-natural part, is ready to set sail, ready to grow upwards, to search and seek, ready to strive for the pleasure of God, ready to submit. [...] Condemnation is a regressive initiation act for Muslims [...] that denies one half of our being.
This piece was one of the most touching and profound for me; not only did it address a crucial element that is rarely present in secular discussions around this topic - the impact of existing in such an environment on a Muslim's faith and Islam - but it was also written in a beautiful, sensitive, poetic style.
It is Allah Who Condemns by Cyrus McGoldrick
We are not minorities, but members of the ummah of Muhammad. We are a body, wherever we go. Wherever we were born, wherever we die, even if we have no leader or state, we are a nation. Our allegiance to each other is a divine obligation.
Another chapter that gave me a feeling of recognition, I felt that this one said out loud some ideas that many Muslims might sense but not know how to or want to voice publicly. It was also written honestly and openly, carrying the reader along on McGoldrick's emotional and intellectual journey as he navigated trying to live his faith with integrity.
I think these quotes summarise the combination of approaches in this book that helped me to think about this topic. The first three highlight the structural injustices that need to be understood and addressed by us as Muslims who aspire to a just world for all. While we are trying to do this, we need to protect our understanding of who we are and our ultimate purpose. The last two quotes soothed my heart in addressing this, whether directly or otherwise. Contrary to some messaging from mainstream and other media, we need protect our hearts to ensure we don't internalise their narrative to the point where we become "the Other" in our own lives. May Allah guide us to understand our value in the way He has taught us: in our relationship with Him.
For some related reviews, resources and pertinent questions, read the review of this book here.
Alhamdu Lillah, I started this book about five months ago and today I finished it! It's not a long book nor is it written in a complicated, heavy style, but the ideas in it are deep and I wanted to take it slowly to give myself time to understand them properly (I was also extremely busy for several of those months, so that didn't help).
This isn't a review post; I don't expect to write a review of this book because that is beyond my ability, but I might write a different type of post, in sha Allah. For now, I'm just excited about this moment and thought I'd celebrate it by sharing a striking few lines from the conclusion. Bennabi is certainly not one for superficial, feel good statements; although a lot of this book focuses on the numerous complex problems facing the Muslim world, there is always a sense of optimism based in complete confidence in Islam as the ultimate guidance for all mankind and I think this confidence comes through in these final words. May Allah have mercy on him and accept all his work as a source of ongoing charity for him and his family.
Translated Extracts: Textes Sur la Lutte Ideologique [Texts on the ideological fight] by Malek Bennabi
Extracts with Translations
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.
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