Appalling ignorance of matters Muslim

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkiye Views: 5332

Recent events in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Germany and France challenge some well-entrenched notions.

Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim nation, at 235 million, and the third largest democracy, after India and the U.S. - held a free and fair presidential election. It featured three secular-minded candidates, including a woman who does not wear the hijab. 

The incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, won. He was rewarded for ushering in political and economic stability, controlling crony capitalism and corruption, and rooting out Islamic militancy.

Three months earlier, there had been parliamentary elections. Parties with an Islamic agenda lost to those who wanted to keep state and religion separate, though many may themselves be deeply religious.

Neighbouring Malaysia has begun rolling back a decades-long quota system for the majority Malays, which discriminates against Chinese, Indians and others. Prime Minister Najib Razak is pre-empting the resurgent opposition leader, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose pledge to end the quotas was gaining traction.

Democracy is also working well in Turkey. The government has just proclaimed a law limiting the power of military courts. Civilian courts will try military personnel in peacetime and military courts will be barred from prosecuting civilians.

This complies with the European Union's requirements for Turkey to be eligible for EU membership. But its real significance is that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the popular prime minister, has ended the 80-year-old immunity enjoyed by the army, which used to stage coups and topple governments.

If you include the elected governments in Pakistan and Bangladesh (populations 176 million and 158 million, respectively) and add the Muslims of India (155 million), you realize that about 800 million Muslims enjoy varying degrees of democracy.

The Western view of Muslims living under military or monarchical despots is true mostly of the Middle East. And the worst among them (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) are the closest allies of the U.S. - and Canada.

So the idea of America as the harbinger of democracy for Muslims is humbug. The ballyhooed democratization of Iraq and Afghanistan (never the aim of the invasions) has come at a horrendous human cost, widely viewed in the Muslim world as crimes against humanity. 

A parallel notion, that Muslim women are living in the Dark Ages, also applies mostly to the Arab world, especially the nations closest to the U.S. and Canada.

Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh have had women leaders. Even in Iran, the land of limited democracy and crackdowns, women are in the forefront of civic engagement, including protests.

In Germany, a pregnant hijabi woman was stabbed, 18 times, to death in a courtroom, as her 3-year-old son looked on. Instead of going after the suspect (a man who hated Muslims and was in court for calling her "a terrorist"), police mistakenly shot her husband, one presumes by presuming him to be at fault. He's in critical condition.

Marwa Sheribini was buried in her native Egypt where angry protesters condemned German Islamophobia, as did the Arab League. Elsewhere, Muslims berated the Western media's silence. Among them: Wahida Valiante, the hijab-wearing president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Its executive director, Zijad Delic, added that if Sheribini's attacker had been a Muslim, "the media would've reported it widely. Then for days afterwards, they would deliberate the case and conclude that Muslims are `brutal and uncivilized.' But when a racist European murders an innocent woman, the silence is deafening."

In France, Ayatollah Nicolas Sarkozy has issued a fatwa against the niqab: It's "not a sign of religion. It's a sign of subservience and debasement." Perhaps. However, the issue is not theological but rather secular: On what legal basis does a democracy ban one person's veil but favour another's bikini?

The above examples point to geopolitical inconsistencies or instances of individual racism and state complicity/complacency. But they most glaringly highlight the West's appalling, and dangerous, ignorance of matters Muslim.

Haroon Siddiqui is editorial page editor emeritus at Toronto Star. He can be reached at [email protected].

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkiye
Views: 5332

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Older Comments:
Wow... So there have been a couple of successful elections in Muslim countries, have there? Congratulations. Good for everybody.

By the author's own admission, this 'appalling ignorance' held by non-Muslims is actually *true* in the traditional heart of the Muslim world. "The Western view of Muslims living under military or monarchical despots is true mostly of the Middle East" and "women are living in the Dark Ages, also applies mostly to the Arab world". So in other words, this 'appalling ignorance' is actually *right* for what most of the 'ignorant' people would consider to be the 'Muslim world'.

What a useless article. If this is the best that apologists for Islam can come up with, they might as well give up now.

Ahmed Asghar: I assume you know Islam is based on Quran and Sunnah. In Sunnah it is very clear - bibi Ayesha used to wear niqab. There is ample evidence on this matter.

You mentioned Bahrain - I will mention Kuwait (where I grew up), Saudi where women do wear it.

Saying niqab is an issue of dominance shows your ignorance - there is nothing dominant about this. It is a choice that women make - esp if they live in Western countries. Let me assure you - women in Western countries wear niqab/hijab out of choice and personal conviction.


There is no such thing as niqab, a total covering of the face, in Quran. It is based on cultural norms and one can see this in varying forms in Islamic world.

For example in Bahrain as in many other Muslim countries, majority of Muslim women do not cover their entire faces. I personally am against all forms of dominance; including French dominance but this is their country and they have the right to stick to their cultural norms, as they do worst in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

We must not throw stones whilst we live in glass houses.

If it was up to me and I did not like their ways; then I would check out of that place fast and go somewhere where I am respected.


Looking back into history of some western nations, we come across several similar episodes. One example, how the United States got the Native Americans to don western attire and become "Christianised." This kind of cultural assault on another group of people was done-- and is being done-- in order to wipe out/destroy another competing culture/people and to gain dominance. Ironically, using these tactics such as Mr. Sarkozy of France is indulging in also violates their own cultural values of freedom and democracy. They are reaping what they are sowing even as they are doing the sowing!

Christians apathy to anything connected with Islam
has been well known to the world.Wearing "burqa"
(loose outer garment of Muslim women, when they go
out) is as per Quranic directive.It des not make
them subservient or secluded but saves them from
mischief of men.

Sayeed- Niqaab is not entirely thru male pressure as there are many women, especially in the western countries who choose to wear a niqab due to their own interpretation of islamic texts and matters of personal faith.. Just as there are young muslims who do various acts due to their own interpretation doesn't mean that is not supported by the islamic texts. We know that Islam is dynammic and one opinioin does not negate others as long it is not against the Quran and Sunnah, rather completes into a circle of tolerance and unity.

Have always seen this inconsistency in Western rhetoric. Unfortunately, even some Muslims swallow it without thinking about it critically.

I think nikab is a sign of male domination, male
oppression against women. Nobody can prove that it
is prescribed in Quran and Sunnah. Very often we
failed to follow the true religion of Islam and
become a critique of western leaders. In other
words we provide them the opportunity to be
critical against Muslims by not sticking to the
true faith of Islam.

I am not a muslim, though I have lived in a country where nearly everyone is. I found this article very interesting and enlightening. I have one concern and that is the reference to a man who hates muslims as racist. Is there such a thing as the muslim race? No, Islam is a religion(though perhaps a bit more to), open to anyone who follows its call. Is it perhaps something of a problem that muslims do see themselves as something different from other people, i think so.
My wife is asian so I am touched by racism and I live with it, it is mostly ignorance causing fear in the ignorant.
I would also say that the media do not reflect what western people think, very many of us are really sick of them.
I know that the vast majority of Muslims are good people and no other group can say better than that.