There will be a day, sometime in the near future, in which Islam, for all effects and purposes, will be criminalized. I am not a prophet. I do not claim to know the future. But I can see the world around me, plain as day, and this has already begun.
It is distressing to see younger Muslims attempting to invoke Western ideals like “freedom of religion” to defend their right to practice their faith, for they are using the very sword that will one day be used to slay them. The fact is, the laws that will be enacted to slowly criminalize Islam, will be enacted without any apparent contradiction with “freedom of religion”. In fact, these laws will probably be passed because of “religious freedom”. As I have pointed out on this website before, secularism does not mean “separation of church and state”, it means “separation of the church from the state”, with the government still perfectly free to meddle in the affairs of any church, mosque, synagogue, or temple it so pleases. Now to a certain extent, this is necessary: an ideal Islamic state would also examine, not only non-Muslim, but even Muslim places of worship to ensure that those organizations were not preaching insurgency. But this is not what secularism ordains. As opposed to the typical multicultural refrain of “many colors, all in harmony”, secularism demands one ubiquitous “color” be enforced upon society–that of Liberalism. Of course, like the most intelligent dictators, secularism recognizes that the idea of forcing an entire populous to adhere to the same dogma is doomed to failure, so it accepts different “shades” of this all-pervasive “color”: For instance, one is permitted to be a Liberal who believes in the divinity of Jesus the Christ (saws), a Liberal who does not acknowledge the presence of a God, even a Liberal who accepts the authenticity of the Quran. The existence of God has been rendered an irrelevant matter. After all, when both a theist and an atheist both act like there is no Hereafter, does it really matter if one of them believes in it?
Now all of this has been written before, both on this website and by people far more intelligent and eloquent than I. But the question remains: What happens when a secular liberal society comes into contact with an ideology and people that refuse to submit to its will? The answer is simple: Any nonconformist aspects of the ideology are publicly smeared and forcibly weeded out of society under the banner of “non-violent extremism”, or, the idea that beliefs that do not fit the social norm are intrinsically tied to terrorism and uninhibited violence. After all, who would be opposed to banning ideas that contribute to terrorism? Even if the beliefs in question can be as unrelated to “extremism” as the classical Islamic prohibition on music and the visual arts, or the perceived impurity of dogs, it does not matter. They are contradictory to the status quo, so they must go. It isn’t even enough for individuals to hold these beliefs in private, and quietly go on with their lives. For then they are guilty of “refusing to integrate” and are subjected to the usual ominous calls of being “a nation within a nation”, or a “fifth column”. But the truth is, violent extremism is extremism. The actions of Western governments to reclassify religious conservatism as indicative of future violence, apart from being shockingly unsupported by statistics and scientific inquiry, is nothing more than an attempt to conform the beliefs of the populace in a way disturbingly similar to Orwellian depictions of “thought-crime”.
In all these conferences however, in all these seminars of world leaders passionately declaring how they will do everything in their power to crack down on illiberal beliefs in their country to rapturous applause, the word Islam, by itself, unadulterated, is calculatedly avoided mention. Politicians are free to imply that the problem at hand is a version, or an interpretation of Islam, whether it be ‘Wahabism’, ‘Salafism’, “fundamentalism’, or perhaps the most inane term of all: ‘Islamism’. This is not because these world leaders harbor some sort of respect for Islam or Muslims, or because they do not believe that Islam is synonymous with terrorism, it is because when they do roll out their civil rights-curtailing programs, they can do so claiming that it is not Islam they are targeting, but rather ‘extremism’, or some other similar nonsense, even whilst they openly target normative Islam. This is why right-wing US and UK politicians campaign so vigorously to ban (currently peaceful) organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hizb ut-Tahrir. Apart from the fact that these groups are so vast and far-reaching that most influential Muslim leaders in the West could probably be linked to them and therefore be declared “terrorist sympathizers”, the reason for this is that most of the ideology that these groups advocate, such as the Caliphate, are a part of normative, orthodox Islam. If and when these groups are criminalized, these beliefs too will become illegal. And then any beliefs that happened to be linked to those beliefs, and so on and so forth.
The most saddening part of this ordeal, however, are the Muslims out there who truly believe in this facade, and who actively struggle to void their faith of all dissentient aspects, trying desperately to argue that the Shariah and hudood do not exist, or that Islam promotes perennialism and salvific pluralism, or that it forbids polygyny, yet somehow permits homosexuality. And the politicians say, look, Muslims agree with us that these are heterodox views that cannot be tolerated in the West, so how can our laws possibly be intolerant? And if the other, majority of Muslims disagree with this, well then it seems as if some are in need of “deradicalization”. Programs like PREVENT in the UK, and CVE in the US have already harassed and intimidated many, with no end in sight. We are trudging through some very dark days.
What must Muslims in the West, holding different positions throughout the theological spectrum, do in these times? We must defend the entire range of acceptable opinions in Islamic thought. Through the lens of age old (though important) doctrinal grudges, certain sects have attempted to redirect the rising tide of Muslim-hatred against their opponents: Iranian Shiites against the Saudi Salafists, modernists against the orthodoxy, etc.) But what goes around comes around, and eventually these same people will be facing the full force of the flames they once helped fan. Let us all take a lesson from Judaism and the Haskalah, or “Jewish Enlightenment” of the 18th and 19th centuries that attempted to fully integrate Jews into European culture by incorporating Liberalism and rationality into the Jewish tradition. But no matter how hard they tried, Jews were never considered a part of European culture, or ‘properly assimilated’ enough, and it did not benefit them against the coming horrors of the 20th century.
And let us also remember that fortune and adversity appear in cycles and that it is rare to have one without the other, and that even in the darkest of days, when Man feels that his Creator has forsaken him, the Light and Promise of God is near.
“So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers. If a wound should touch you – there has already touched the [opposing] people a wound similar to it. And in these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that Allah may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs – and Allah does not like the wrongdoers. And that Allah may purify the believers [through trials] and destroy the disbelievers– Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while Allah has not yet made evident those of you who strive in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast?” (Quran 3:139-142)
They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it. (Quran 9:32)