What is disappointing and, frankly, irresponsible is that a conference tour explicitly dedicated to “Losing My Religion,” presumably to fight against the loss of religion in the Muslim community, highlights a speaker like Sarsour, who regularly and incessantly promotes ideas and values that are anathema to Islam.
Doubly disappointing are the scholars who are legitimizing Sarsour by choosing to speak alongside her. As of this writing the following scholars are on the speakers list: Sh Sulaiman Moola, Sh Zahir Mahmood, Mufti Abdur Rahman Mangera, Sh Yasir Qadhi.
The organizers of the tour, MEND, issued a written response to critics. Unfortunately, it isn’t a very good response. Rather than own up to their mistake and drop Sarsour, they give flimsy and incoherent excuses.
Here it is in full:
A few concerns have been raised at the invitation by MEND to invite Linda Sarsour to speak at the LMRC conference 2019. The concerns relate to Linda’s views on LGBTQI rights. MEND wishes to make a few observations in this regard:
1. MEND hosts hundreds of events a year with a variety of speakers from differing backgrounds, both Muslims & Non-Muslim, who have a wide range of views across a variety of issues.
Appeal to diversity. A poor excuse right off the bat. Clearly, MEND selects who it features and which views it deems appropriate to give a platform. It’s not a free for all, where everyone and their mothers can come and speak. They don’t give a platform to, say, Maajid Nawaz, for example. Why not? Because he espouses toxic beliefs, beliefs that are completely contrary to Islam and the Muslim community. So, then, why doesn’t MEND practice that same selectivity with Sarsour, a figure who is at least as problematic in her views on Islam?
2. The overarching theme of the LMRC conference is how best to tackle Islamophobia in an increasingly hostile political climate in the West. It is not a conference on Islamic theology per se, nor is MEND an Islamic theological organisation.
Firstly, do they honestly expect us to buy this excuse when half of their speakers are Islamic scholars, i.e., scholars of theology? This is really insulting our intelligence.
This is what the “Losing My Religion” conference was in 2017.
Looks pretty theological to me.
Now, in 2019, they claim they are not a theological organization. Why? Because they included a fahisha-promoting reformer to their programming.
In other words, Linda Sarsour has single handedly secularized an Islamic organization.
Secondly…uhh…what? The conference is titled “Losing My Religion”! Religion is theology. Defining what religion is is theological. How can one have a discussion about losing religion without defining what one means by religion in the first place?
For example, Linda Sarsour has often publicly praised other religions and their rituals. Is this allowed in Islam? Absolutely not. No ikhtilaf on such a clear cut manner. Praising the religious rituals of other religions is an act of kufr (which does not necessarily make the one doing it a kafir since it may be due to ignorance, but that does not mean it is any less an act of kufr that threatens one’s iman).
This is where the theology comes in. If members of the Muslim community believe that praising other religions, calling them “beautiful” and “the truth,” etc., is Islamically acceptable, then they have lost their religion or are on the brink of losing it in an important sense. They have “Lost Their Religion.”
But the only way to know that that is a loss of religion is if one knows the theological point about praising other religions. So this excuse that “we are not a theological organization” is absolutely bogus.
Sad that it has to be said like this, but that’s the state we are in right now: Kufr is no joke. Yet speakers who promote it constantly and unrepentantly are being begged to headline our conferences and events.
3. Linda Sarsour has been invited to LMRC to speak about her extensive political activism work, not in an Islamic Scholarly capacity.
Anyone who has forced himself to sit through one of her repetitive, cliched talks knows that she constantly appeals to “her religion.” I think there is an important distinction here. It would be far, far better to invite a non-Muslim political activist than a Muslim one who is known for promoting fahisha and kufr. With the non-Muslim, at least, there is an understanding that he is not representative of what Muslims should do and should believe.
This is very simple logic, really. We recognize that logic when it comes to figures like, again, Maajid Nawaz. What makes Nawaz more problematic than a non-Muslim islamophobe is that Nawaz bears the impression of representing Islam and the Muslim community to his audience. Even if Nawaz doesn’t say that he is a scholar, his audience nonetheless has that impression and takes what he says as more authentic, as opposed to if a non-Muslim were to say the same thing.
4. Sharing a platform with another speaker does not imply that you share or endorse all of their views on every subject. In fact how else do we constructively challenge the views of others unless we engage with them. Countless events and panels occur across the UK each year hosting speakers with differing views on subjects. Locational proximity can never imply theological agreement.
By this logic, islamophobes and sell-outs, like at the Quilliam Foundation or Mossad agent “Imam” Tawhidi can never be constructively challenged unless we roll out the red carpet for them at our conferences.
5. The decision to invite Linda Sarsour was taken by MEND, and not by any of the publicised speakers
Looks like the scholar speakers wanted MEND to make this “clarification,” as if it absolves the scholars for participating. “We had nothing to do with inviting Sarsour, but we will happily speak alongside her and, thereby, confuse all the Muslims who look to us for Islamic knowledge and guidance into thinking that Sarsour is, at best, an amazing role model that we should stand with and, at worst, just another strong Muslima who we have a difference of opinion with on some possibly minor issues, but no biggie.”
Whether they intend to or not, this is the message the scholars are projecting to the Muslim community. Of course, sometimes, they can be quite explicit:
6. Numerous major, mainstream Muslim conferences in the US and Canada have invited Linda to speak alongside mainstream orthodox Muslims scholars. LMRC would not be the first time Linda is speaking alongside orthodox Muslim scholars.
“Umm…but…everyone else is doing it!”
This excuse didn’t work with my mom when I was a teenager, it’s not going to work now from a Muslim organization.
7. There will be a Q&A session at the end of the conference involving a panel of speakers, this is an opportunity for anyone wishing to ask any of the speakers any questions on any aspect of Islam and Islamophobia, including LGBTQI related questions. We suggest that anyone with questions for Linda or indeed any other speaker, avails themselves of this opportunity to ask their question directly.
Great policy. Invite the fahisha promoter first, ask questions later.
All in all, we have to hold Muslim organizations accountable for what they promote and who they give the mic to. If they want to market to the Muslim community, take money from the Muslim community, claim to represent the Muslim community, etc., they have to care about what Islam says and uphold Islamic principles and values. Simple.
Don’t throw Islam under the bus because you’re trying to sell tickets.
I pray the UK Muslim community will put great pressure on the organization and the other speakers. This is not the direction we need to be going.