Eid al Adha: Ummah before the nation state

Eid al Adha: Ummah before the nation state
As Muslims celebrate Eid al Adha, Randa Abdel-Fattah reflects on the difficulty in seeing Muslim institutions cosy up to the state, especially amidst rising oppression. Such relationships, defined by the war on terror, do not serve Muslims.
6 min read
08 Jul, 2022
The focus of Islamophobia and the oppression of Muslims cannot be limited to the local, it must expand beyond any borders. [GETTY]

As Eid al Adha draws near and politicians will once again be invited to our prayers and festivals, it is the sincere wish of so many Muslims that Muslims in positions of influence reflect on who religious celebrations are for and whose agenda is being served. For this year’s Ramadan demonstrated to me how common-sense ideas and scripts about the ‘moderate’ Muslim— so powerfully sedimented over two decades of the war on terror— continue to seduce many of those in positions of leadership in Muslim community organisations and mosques when it comes to our religious celebrations.   

For personal reasons, I was required to make an exception to my rule of not attending iftars in which law enforcement is present. As I listened to the president of the mosque committee deliver a speech to a predominantly Muslim audience sprinkled with a few local politicians and a police officer, I felt my heart sink as the president extolled the virtues of Muslim Australians: we are law-abiding, contributors, productive members of the community, ‘proud’ to live in a ‘great multicultural society.’ 

The lack of acknowledgment that this multicultural society is one constituted by racialised settler minority communities on stolen land was, sadly, unsurprising.

''The cumulative weight of years of ‘war on terror’ laws, policies, countering violent extremism grants programs, and political and public debates which have constructed Muslims as the ‘suspect’ or ‘problem’ community has created unspoken ‘rules’ about how Muslim ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ should speak about and on behalf of Muslim communities. ''

Many Muslims continue to be seduced by neoliberal politics of recognition, effacing First Nations sovereignty. Without racial literacy and an understanding of the racial structures and histories on which this country is built, the narrative of Muslims as ‘integrated/safe/moderate/apolitical/grateful’ endures.

And it endures because between highly publicised counter-terrorism raids, arrests and trials, or media moral panics about Muslims, or headlines about the persecution and oppression of Muslims perpetrated by Australia’s allies against Muslims around the world, are what French philosopher Michel Foucault called ‘meticulous rituals’ or the ‘micro-physics of power’.

This is the stuff that happens at the everyday level, like what to say during speeches at our community celebrations, who to invite, which topics are acceptable to raise, and which should be avoided. These are the cumulative, repetitive, seemingly innocuous practices between the state and Muslim community organisations and leaders which circumscribe relations of power. 

Why do Muslims feel compelled to seek respect and inclusion through the narrative of integration, safety, not-extremist?

The cumulative weight of years of ‘war on terror’ laws, policies, countering violent extremism grants programs, and political and public debates which have constructed Muslims as the ‘suspect’ or ‘problem’ community has created unspoken ‘rules’ about how Muslim ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ should speak about and on behalf of Muslim communities. How they should participate in politics, what are acceptable talking points, terms of discussion and political engagement. Decades of being defined based on presumptive suspicion and guilt has groomed some Muslims to steer clear from being seen as political, angry, dissenting, ‘incompatible’, ‘disassociated’, ‘foreign’—what countering violent extremism policies have signalled as ‘warning signs’ or ‘indicators’ of radicalisation.  

After two decades of the war on terror it is depressing to see Muslims in position of influence in community organisations and mosque boards refusing to do the work to understand their entanglement in relations of power with the state. It is a refusal to understand that to be a minority in a white-dominant society means there is no such thing as neutral or apolitical. Every interaction with the state constitutes a political act which has a political impact. No amount of good intentions can repair the damage done by, at best, inexcusable naivety or, at worst, refusal to reflect and learn. 

Halfway through Ramadan, I received a series of angry voice memos from a friend who was attending an iftar hosted by a peak national Muslim organisation. She was enraged that some of the imams and community spokespeople who addressed an audience comprised of some of the most influential federal and state politicians in the country did not take the opportunity to advocate for justice for their Muslim brothers and sisters overseas. It was the perfect platform.

A room of politicians, merrily feasting on the ‘multicultural’ ‘exotic’ delights of fatoush, hommous and kebab—as fasting Palestinians were literally being attacked at Al Aqsa mosque; as governments and international organisations were uniting in a global boycott of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine yet criminalising the Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement; as Muslim refugees were being locked up and forced to languish in Australia’s mandatory detention centres; as the Uyghurs were being persecuted in China’s concentration camps; Indian Muslims by extremist Hindus and so on. 

While Islamophobia and the dangers of a repeat of the Christchurch terrorist attack were raised in speeches, the focus was on advocating for laws protecting religious freedom here and the urgency of protecting Muslim Australians from Islamophobia and white supremacy. The focus was therefore confined to the local. 

And this is part of the problem. At a time when we are witnessing renewed global consciousness of the ‘intersectionality of struggles,’ many of our leaders in Western societies remain painfully ignorant.

In my local context, to address race and Islamophobia in local terms fails to grasp that Australia’s role in the global war on terror emboldens transnational mobilisations of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence in settler societies. To understand violent white supremacy on the domestic front – such as the Christchurch massacre – means understanding how violent state policy on the global front – killing Muslims – has emboldened domestic white supremacists.

Islamophobia and racism require globally-oriented analytics and responses. Policies, laws, discourses which circulate by the same politicians breaking bread with us at our religious celebrations, have contributed either directly or indirectly to the local and global conditions of Islamophobia and violence we seek to be protected from.  

Days away from Eid Al Adha, it is time Muslims build confidence in the power and integrity of their own faith, moral compass and world views. It is time to stop privileging liberal multicultural frameworks of inclusion at the expense of movement building based on principles of solidarity with First Nations peoples.

This means having the moral imagination to invite First Nations communities to our celebrations, not the police. It means inviting only those politicians whose values align with ours. It is time the Muslims who sit on mosque and organisation boards understood that in a world based on interconnecting global structures of oppression, violence, security and well-being, our political strategies must be based on the transnational— on Ummah before nation state, on humanity before local citizenship. 

Randa Abdel-Fattah is a DECRA Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching the generational impact of the war on terror on post 9/11 youth and the award winning author of over 11 novels. 

Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah 

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.