Where Are All My Muslim Geeks At?

Where Are All My Muslim Geeks At?

Have you ever stood silently in a crowd and felt like the last of your kind? The last member of a special breed on the brink of extinction? Well folks, I often get that feeling. I believe I have mentioned once or twice previously that I’ve never really been a social butterfly, nor have I been known to frequent communal activities (weddings, Eid celebrations, or sisters-only events….nope I’d rather stay home, stuff my face with food, and binge watch Netflix). The truth is I’ve always felt a little odd and awkward since I usually don’t fit into any of the usual prototypes of what a Muslim women should be like.

As a teenager, I was a bit of chameleon. I use to compartmentalize the many aspects of my life into neatly organized folders (stored deep into the abyss of my psyche). My closest friends being bookworms, it was all about books for us. Exchanging them, discussing them, and even on occasions re-enacting some poignant scenes (don’t you dare judge us Cyrano de Bergerac is a masterpiece) was an integral part of our teenage experience. As an avid science fiction fan though I often felt alone. None of my friends were particularly interested in sci-fi or watched any of the series I followed so obsessively. I couldn’t find anyone within the Muslim community that seemed to share my particular fondness for science fiction. I got used to being the lone Muslim going to conventions, Renaissance Fairs, partaking in cosplaying, and LARPing.

With age though, one feels an increasing need to create a community of like minded individuals; a need to find a way of sharing oneself with others. Luckily I’ve been able to meet a few Muslimahs who share my fondness for books, science fiction, and other geeky leisures (Give us your indecipherable datas, your convoluted and confusing theories, your hidden subtexts, seriously we live for that stuff). What is undeniable however is that we all feel very much like an oddity amongst our fellow Muslims. There are no shortages of online platforms catering to Muslims interested in fashion, parenting advices, politics (from the most interesting conversations to the most dubious), or matrimonial services …..but very little else. With the sheer amount of engineers, science majors, and PhD holders we have in the Muslim community, you would think platforms discussing everything from academia to science and technology would be front and centre in the Muslim blogosphere. And yet, the silence on that front is deafening. We own very little platforms or institutions dedicated to fostering innovative scientific and technological ideas, and even less dedicated to the arts and literature.

So where in the world are all the Muslim geeks/nerds?

Surely we can’t be the only contingent who proudly assume their geekiness and actually revel in it? Are we all living happily in our own little silos? If so, I say it is time to come out into the open folks. We come from a long tradition of thinkers, scientists, inventors, and scholars who have enlightened humanity by responding to its most pressing needs. The current narrative ladened with Islamophobia tends to reduce Muslims to nothing more than the caricature of a religious fanatic. It is a narrative that either seeks to erase our complexity and diversity, or simply strip us of our humanity. There is an increasing pressure on Muslims (young Muslims especially) to modernize and reform Islam by making it more compatible with the precept of Western Liberalism. They are often being told that there is something inherently wrong with their Muslim identity and that it needs sprucing up to make it more appealing.

This is where Muslims more than ever need to be uncompromisingly and unapologetically Muslim. We neither need to modernize nor reform Islam. We neither need to dilute our identity, nor silence our voices out of fear. This is when we need to show the world that Islam far from being a hinderance to our fulfillment is in fact the very source of our potential and possibilities. Muslims must take their destiny into their own hands by shaping their own future. It is time to be brazenly innovative, creative, and dare to dream the future into reality; and who better to do that than Muslim geeks/nerds.

So come out, come out, wherever you are brothers and sisters your vision and your talents are sorely needed.

**If you are aware of any Muslim blogs/websites with a particular penchant toward science, technology, science fiction, literature etc… feel free to share them in the comment section. Jazak’Allah Khair.  

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Talking about class today has been relegated in many ways to a form of antiquated analysis relevant only in Socialist circles clinging to Marxist Theory. In fact, concepts such as class struggle, class divide, or the working class, have been steadily expunged from our social narrative and our academic discourses. The great geopolitical shift of 1989/91 which led to the downfall of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR ended officially the partition of the world along Capitalist and Communist lines. For many, this was proof that Liberal Capitalism had unequivocally defeated Marxism both as an ideology and a socio economic system. This brave new Post-Cold War World heralded for the likes of Francis Fukuyama a world free from the yoke of the past and where history itself came to “an end”[1]. Specialists from both the right and the left were quick to declare that the advent of globalization had ended class struggle, thus making the debate around class obsolete.

It is often argued that the working class as defined in traditional Marxist theory no longer exists in Western societies. The manual workers of yesterdays represent a minority in a workforce dominated entirely by white-collar workers “enjoying middle-class living standards and lifestyles, while, contrary to Marx’s expectations, real wages have steadily risen in the past century ”[2]. The improvement of working conditions and the expansion of labor unions to all sectors of industry helped diffuse the confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat with the emergence of an “amorphous middle-class”[3]. Consequently, class as an underlying factor in shaping history has been gradually eclipsed in academia by a variety of other concepts tackling the very structural inequities addressed traditionally in class analysis.

What emerged from the ashes of the Cold War is an overtly simplistic understanding of the world. The onslaught of mass media served as a catalyst for the propagation of a superficial view of history emphasizing the works of politicians, artists, celebrities and a few intellectuals at the detriment of the “more fundamental patterns at work beneath the play of events”[4]. We have become mass consumers of a world history chronicled through the latest feats of celebrities and their scandals served up daily by glossy tabloids and reality shows, all the while denying the very idea that history has any pattern at all. Yet, underneath the veneer of change and the illusion of transformation lie the same old dichotomies.

The drastic change in the structure of our modern workforce and the shift in the conventional configuration of the working class hasn’t abolished class divide. Actually, low income and the working poor are terminologies used today to categorize those who (like the old working class) find themselves at the lower echelons in the relations of production. In-depth analysis of prevailing social, economic, and political concerns are obscured by shallow and misleading discourses that rely on a simplistic understanding of the structural and institutional nature of contemporary social inequities. Hence, rather than talking about class divide and class struggle in the current context, the conversation about economic disparity is now centered on the topic of poverty.

What is simply a symptom of a greater malady takes the spotlight and inspires a deluge of equally superficial efforts aimed at tackling the problem without ever questioning the system that leads to its existence. Despite the popularity of the notion of “social justice” and the string of activism it inspires, class divide and the struggle animating the dynamics of our class hierarchy are never encroached on. Politicians and activists alike promote the necessity of alleviating child poverty, elderly poverty, income poverty, or urban poverty as if these mere manifestations of poverty are not in fact the outcome of the same system of oppression. How can one eradicate poverty without ever changing the elements at the heart of our political, social and economic institutions that ascertain these economic disparities?

In Islam, the concept of justice is at the core of the values that define a Muslim nation. The rise of Islam helped establish a spiritually oriented worldview promoting socio-economic justice as a goal. In fact, one can notice upon an in-depth reading of the Qur’an how “the underlying tendency of the Qur’anic legislation was to favour the underprivileged”[5]. Ibn khaldun defined Muslim societies as goal-oriented, and with a keen interest in establishing social cohesion[6]. This was only possible according to him through a concerted effort by individuals and social institutions alike in promoting social solidarity. Thus, addressing the issue of economic disparity and poverty was not limited to individual acts of charity alone, but also encompassed moral and institutional reforms.

One of the most important things that Islam helped accomplish through its spiritually-oriented worldview was the realization of socio-economic justice. The status as well as the well-being of the weak and the downtrodden improved  drastically when the old social hierarchy based on tribal kinship was dismantled. This was primarily accomplished through moral and institutional reforms that reiterated the distributive nature of justice under Islamic law. It made every individual conscious of his obligations towards his fellow human beings, while the community was commanded to enjoy the good and forbid the bad. The government also played a crucial role in these reforms. It did everything it could to ensure the prevalence of law and order as well as justice. It established a judicial system in which the law applied equally to the rich and the poor.

The Islamic economic system is primarily based upon the notion of justice.  Justice in Islam is a multifaceted concept, and there are several words that exist to define it.  “The most common word in usage which refers to the overall concept of justice is the Arabic word “adl”.  This word and its many synonyms imply the concepts of “right”, as equivalent to fairness, “putting things in their proper place”, “equality”, “equalizing”, “balance”, “temperance” and “moderation.”[6]. An Islamic economic system is not necessarily concerned with economic statistics pertaining to income and expenditure, but rather with the spirit of the system itself.  Islam as a complete way of life brings all aspects of human activity (social, economic, political) under the dominion of a specific set of rules and regulations shaped by the Islamic ethos.

While such matters as financial performance are no doubt important, a society shaped by an Islamic ethos gives preeminence to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. The protection of an individual’s rights, needs, and dignity, irregardless of their race, gender, wealth, or religion, takes precedent over any economic considerations.  “Islam teaches that God has created provision for every person who He has brought to life.  Therefore, the competition for natural resources that is presumed to exist among the nations of the world is an illusion.  While the earth has sufficient bounty to satisfy the needs of mankind, the challenge for humans lies in discovering, extracting, processing, and distributing these resources to those who need them.”[7]

[1] Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Ibn, khaldun (1377). Muqaddimah

[1] Fukuyam, Francis. (1982). The End of History and The Last Man

[2] Callinicos, Alex. (2010). The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx.

[3] Ibid. p.249

[4] Ibid. p.106

[5]  Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Ibn khaldun (1377). Al Muqaddimah

[7]  http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/277/economic-system-of-islam-part-1/




Let me be frankly honest with you folks. I am completely and utterly in love with us: our hijabs, our niqabs, and our khimars. I love our unmistakably Muslim identity, and how we proudly assume it. I love my sisters in all their diversity, and I’m left forever in awe of their resilience, their courage, and their inner strength.  I look at the quiet beauty that is ours, and I can’t help but feel sorry for those who are too blind—or too bitter—to understand it. I love how we assume our womanhood without compromise, neither subservient nor rebellious. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

My sisters stand strong in the eye of the storm, forever imbued with dignity and wisdom. Like a million stars shining brightly in the firmament, they illuminate the world with their modesty. No rocks, no bullets, no words uttered in hatred can dim the light that is theirs. They hurl ugliness at them, try to soil their pride, and rob them of their humanity; but my sisters remind them instead of what nobility, and self-respect look like. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

A million lies shouted from the greatest heights fall down on them like a torrential rain, and yet my sisters remain unmoved and unchanged. Every lie hits them with the force of a thousand razors, and yet my sisters—although injured—remain firm on their path. I look at them, glistening in the morning light, and I am reminded of how privileged I am to call myself a Muslimah. Yes sisters, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

What is a moment in this world for those who dream of eternity? Whirlwinds come and go, but Muslimahs remain forever a reminder that without a convenant with God, life is but an exercice in futility. The past, the present, and the future converge to find their axis in the unflinching commitment of my sisters. Yes my beloved Muslimahs, I am completely and utterly in love with us.


The Passenger (short story)

The Passenger (short story)

“Captain, we’ve arrived at the rendezvous point. Shall I initiate a sweep?”

“Yes Kal. Contact our clients and let them know that the package is en route”

This, more than anything else is what Leila Diallo hated about her job: the hand-off. If anything could ever go wrong it is at that precise moment. It could be a client suddenly getting greedy; a trigger-happy hired gun getting nervous; some local wannabe thugs deciding to hijack the proceedings; or worse yet, those insufferable bounty hunters shooting up the whole place. Yep, it’s all fun and games until someone gets vaporized or riddled with bullets, she though.

Leila wasn’t particularly afraid of a little action, but with age and maturity one learns to become risk-averse. After dodging capture for the past three months by travelling through some of the worst systems this galaxy has to offer, she was more than ready to hand off the package, get paid, and go on her merry way without too much fuss. Knowing her luck however, things will probably go sideways before she can get off this forsaken planet. Good thing I have just the ship for a quick escape, she thought smiling to herself.

Her ship called Kahil—whose artificial intelligence Leila affectionately dubbed Kal—was a relic from the war. The devastating decade-long conflict engulfed the entire galaxy in its path; killing millions across eleven systems, and pitting the most powerful families of the Ruling Assembly against one another in a merciless tit for tat. The feuding oligarchs poured the bulk of their wealth and resources into the development of sophisticated weapons, each group desperately trying to tilt the balance of power in their favor. Out of that frantic arms race emerged a whole new breed of warships. The Tyshen-class starships were built to be fast, highly maneuverable, and came with a deadly array of weaponry. While Leila had served aboard one of the much bigger Sumong-class starships, she had seen first hand the effectiveness of the Tyshen ships like her beloved Kahil.

When the war ended the remaining ships were decommissioned and later destroyed. The Ruling Assembly of the Caliphate declared these war machines obsolete, and an unnecessary reminder of the conflict. In reality, the destruction of the oligarchy’s deadly armadas had little to do with ushering in a new peaceful era, and everything to do with ensuring that no one could break the peace treaty on a whim. However, a few ships escaped that fate, and the Kahil was one of them. Much like the ships, the soldiers who fought in the war became an equally painful memory to erase. There were no elaborate ceremonies, no long-winded speeches about bravery and heroism, and certainly no thanks from a grateful Ummah; just a measly pay for service rendered, trinkets in the form of medals, and a few vouchers for free dinners. Leila and Kahil were both war relics who found solace in each other.

“Sweep completed captain. The area is secured.”

“Shukran Kal. Any answer from our clients?”

“No captain, still awaiting confirmation from their end.”

A client running late to a rendezvous is never a good sign. Better be prepared, she thought as she unlocked Kal’s armory. Her favorite item in her rather impressive arsenal was by far her pulse rifle. It had the advantage of being relatively light and easily concealable under her long coat. Better be safe than sorry, she reminded herself as she slung the weapon’s strap across her body and readjusted her Hijab before putting on her coat. As backup she puts a side arm in her leg holster, and a dagger in the sheath strapped to her belt.

“Are we expecting trouble captain?”

“Possibly Kal. Keep sweeping the area, I have a feeling we’ll have some uninvited guests soon enough. Any sign from our clients yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Let me know as soon as you hear anything from them.”

Let’s get this show on the road, she though unenthusiastically. Exiting the bridge, she heads towards the living deck, and approaches the only other occupied quarters in the ship. As the door opened, Leila entered the darkened room.

“Lights”, a child’s voice calls out. Leila turns around and smiles at the little boy sitting cross-legged on one of the bunk beds. Before she could say anything Kal’s voice resonates through the ship’s intercom.

“Captain, the clients finally replied. They are running late but they will be at the designated area for the hand-off in 5 minutes. I’m continuing to sweep the area but so far all seems in order.”

“Shukran Kal. All right kiddo we’re here. It is time for you to go home.”

“I’m ready Captain Diallo”, answers the child as he gets up from the bed.

Leila spent the last three months trying to keep this child safe. When she was hired to safely transport a package to the capital, she never thought the package in question would be a kid, nor did she expect things to get as dangerous as they did. The job seemed straightforward at first. A third party had successfully negotiated the release of a kidnapped child, and was looking for someone to take him back to his parents who are willing to pay handsomely for his safe return.

Captain Diallo, this job will require the utmost discretion. The child comes from a rather well known family, and the parents are keen on avoiding any scandal that may arise from this situation. You are to transport him safely to the capital where you will be paid double your usual fee.

What should have been essentially a mere milk run for Leila rapidly turned into a dogfight with an assortment of bounty hunters trying to get their hands on the child.

Captain Diallo, it seems that the kidnappers have changed their mind and are now trying to capture the child anew. We have also been informed that some members of the oligarchy have put a bounty on him, and intend on using him as a bargaining chip to strong arm his family into giving up some of their key assets. Due to the changing circumstances, the parents are willing to pay you three times your usual fee. It is imperative that you succeed Captain.

That was the last message Leila received from the third party who hired her. To escape detection, she decided to avoid the well-known and more frequented spaceports, and chose instead backwater planets located in the seediest systems she could think of. It has been a long, brutal, and bloody journey but they finally made it to the capital.

As the main cargo bay doors opened, Leila flanked by the little boy emerged from the ship. The coordinates to the rendezvous point brought them to one of the countless old scrapyard scattered across the city of New-Cairo. The place was littered with the remnants of dismantled and wrecked warships, cruise liners, and commercial transport ships. The capital was as always buzzing with an endless stream of activity. Every so often, transport shuttles would fly over the scrapyard on their way to their destination. Leila could see glistening in the distance the towering structures built to house the rich and powerful. These luxurious self-contained buildings were a far cry from the wretchedness of the city sprawled at their feet. Overcrowding, squalor, crime, and poverty were the reality of the average citizen. Even the thick smoky fog of pollution that seemed to constantly choke much of New-Cairo couldn’t dampen the splendor of these daunting arcologies. Walking toward the center of the scrapyard, Leila started taking stock of her surroundings. This is the perfect place for an ambush, she remarked to herself.

Read the rest of this story here

Constructive criticism and suggestions are more than welcome 🙂

The Blue Minaret Literary Journal aims to promote a sense of identity among Muslims writers and artists by providing a space for showcasing their talent and networking with each other.

Fatma N’Soumer – a 19th Century Muslim Heroine

Fatma N’Soumer – a 19th Century Muslim Heroine

While many like to portray Muslim women as nothing more than miserable and oppressed creatures waiting to be saved, it is important that we reiterate the vast and rich history of Muslim women.

The Muslimah Diaries

If the name in this title was unfamiliar to you, you won’t be forgetting it again very soon after reading this. This is the story of the great Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, an important figure of resistance against French colonial invasion in Algeria. She was born Fatimah Syed Ahmed, later given the term “Lalla”, a title given to women of noble standing, and she lived from 1830 to 1863.

Fatimah was was born in 1830, the year the French invaded Algeria. Her father ran a Quranic madrasah, and she would often partake in these, even though it was predominantly for boys. She began her memorisation of the Quran at this time and completed it at an early age, becoming a hafidha and a student of knowledge.

When marriage was arranged for her in her late teens, she refused, choosing instead to dedicate herself to Islamic knowledge and worship. It…

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5 Essential Steps To Larping While Muslim

5 Essential Steps To Larping While Muslim

Although geek culture in general is more popular than ever, certain aspects remain little known to mainstream audiences. Larping, or live action role-playing, is inspired by tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and firmly rooted in genre fiction. Players portray specific characters in a fictional setting, and act out their characters’ actions in a series of events. Although it is a mainstay component of geek culture, larping is often the object of ridicule and mockery. Seen as the geekiest of the geeks in the overall geek hierarchy, Larpers must contend with their fair share of stigma both inside and outside the culture.


To be a Muslim larper comes, of course, with its own set of difficulties. Look, prancing around the house in your wood elf regalia will probably not do wonders to abate you mother’s fears that you will remain single forever, but an elf’s gotta do what an elf’s gotta do. So, whether it’s trying to prove your sanity to your increasingly concerned family and friends, attempting to devise a hijab-friendly costume, or finding ways to impeach your larping from encroaching on your daily prayers, being Muslim while larping will undeniably have its challenges. But, despair not fellow Muslim geeks. Where there’s a will, there is a way.

Here are 5 essential steps to facilitate one’s path to larping bliss:


So, here you are. Ready to enter into the wonderful world of larping, engage in epic fantasy battles, destroy your enemies on the battlefield, and feast on their tears like the sweet nectar of victory. Except, you have no idea where to start.  Well, the first thing you must do is to find your niche. Larping encompasses everything from fantasy, to science fiction, to horror…. yes, even vampires (hopefully not the sparkling type though).

Yes, there is such a thing as a Star Trek larp.

As an avid D&D player in my youth, fantasy larps were for me almost a natural progression. High fantasy is where it all began, but it is certainly not the only larp I’ve tried.  It is crucial that you figure out what you are looking for in a larp. While some enjoy the physical challenge of battles and quests, others prefer stories revolving around character development. For some, the experience is all about amusement and having a good time; for others however, it is about something more than entertainment. They are looking for an opportunity to engage in meaningful stories that allow them to explore the multiple facets of their personality.

High fantasy larp
Warhammer larp (based on a tabletop game)
No idea what kind of larp we’re talking about here, but it seems like FUN!

Once you’ve figured out what genre interests you, it is time to search for existing larping groups in your city or region. Depending on where you dwell, finding a group might prove itself challenging. Once you get in touch with a group, ask for as much information as possible about the story and the venue. It is important that you feel comfortable with every aspect of your larp. If you feel that the story, or the characters, or even the venue, are not compatible with your general religious ethos, then keep searching for a better fit.




Let’s be honest, you’ve always known that the heart of a warrior resides within you. A pox on your frail exterior and a rather dull career that hide so well your true nature. But you are ready to leave the mundane behind and unleash your inner Kraken.


Now, depending on the larp you are partaking in and the chosen method of character creation, you might get a chance to create a brand new character, or end up with a pre-written one by the game master. Whether you become a warrior, a mage, a bard, a merchant, a chamber pot servant, or agent Mulder from the year 2525, every character is important and an integral part of the story. Don’t get too caught up with becoming a hero. Larping is about enjoying yourself and meeting new folks. The golden rule of larping is to never get too attached to your characters. This is larping guys, and bad things are bound to happen to your beloved characters. Much like the beheading of Ned Stark, it might be painful but it is part of the story. Be stoic, and when the time comes…….

Go bravely into the night, fallen warrior.


Most larps require a costume. While some might buy their costumes or have them custom-made, others choose to make them themselves. Whatever option you opt for, if you are a Hijabi, finding a hijab-friendly costume is a must. Whether your larp is high fantasy, Steampunk, or science fiction, striving to devise creative, authentic, and unique costumes that embrace the Hijabi ethos is part of the experience for any Hijabi larper. Medieval clothing and steampunk costumes especially tend to offer a variety of dresses, long skirts, coats, cloaks, and veils that could easily go hand in hand with your hijab. One of the best larping attire I’ve ever seen remains a fellow hijabi’s take on a steampunk pilot costume. So, go on with your bad self Lady Arwen, and show them how it’s done…. Hijabi style.



While larping is rumoured to be mainstream in Nordic countries, there is still unfortunately a great deal of stigma surrounding live action role-playing in North America. The idea that adults could embrace and commit with gusto to what is essentially a fantasy is often met with social  ridicule  and shaming.


According to popular culture, the “typical larper” is often an individual riddled with social anxieties, incapable of forging real relationships, and desperately trying to escape reality.


But what this rather dubious portrayal of larping in movies and TV shows often leaves out is the sheer diversity of the participants’ background. There is no such a thing as a “typical larper”. While most embrace it for entertainment purposes, those individuals that gravitate toward larping in order to experience a sense of community often credit this activity for helping them overcome isolation and find confidence in themselves.

As a Muslim, deciding to partake in larping—casually or more seriously—is often met with bewilderment within the Muslim community. While some might see it as a waste of time, others might perceive in it the sign of something far more ominous going on with you. It is not unusual to have your sanity or maturity questioned by those who never experienced larping. This is where one needs to put on their big girl/boy pants and assumes their geeky hobbies.


Look, not everyone will understand or even approve of your choice of hobbies. Not everyone will cheer you on as you beat a fellow larper senseless with your foam sword. And yes, you will often get concerned looks as you proudly stride around in your body armor on your way to your larp. But like many other hobbies, this is an experience that is profoundly personal. Feel free however to use questions as an occasion to introduce larping to the uninitiated, and who knows maybe one day we larping Muslim ladies could end up with our own larping community…Oh the possibilities!




You are done with all the preparations and are now ready to head out to your first larp. First of all, congrats on boldly going where…some people have gone before. Since larps can last from a few hours to a few days, make sure you put aside the necessary time to perform your daily prayers.

Everything starts somewhere.

Now that you are all set to go, there is one last thing you must remember:DON’T FORGET TO ENJOY YOURSELF! It can be a tad bit intimidating for first-time larpers to find themselves amongst veterans. Larping in more ways than one is an immersive experience: everyone is there to partake in the story and play their part, no matter the size.The hardest part is getting over one’s own hang-ups, and giving in completely to one’s character. Forget about looking ridiculous or making mistakes. Don’t be bogged down by all the rules, focus instead on becoming your character. Play, frolic, and fight to your heart’s content – it’s time to leave the mundane behind and embrace the larping bliss.



The Historical Roots Of Islamophobia

The Historical Roots Of Islamophobia

Since the tragic events of 9/11, many discussions have taken place in the Western world pertaining to Islam. Muslim politics particularly—from the appearance of transnational networks dedicated to militant agendas, to the endurance and transformation of traditional Islamic political parties—have become a recurrent subject in contemporary global politics. However, as the renowned political scientist Olivier Roy pointed out, the study of Islam as a sociopolitical phenomenon has always been challenging. According to him, “there are serious methodological difficulties in analyzing an Islamic phenomenon taking place on a global scale” (Volpi, 2010: 1). One aspect that always lent itself readily to analysis was the political dimension of Islam. The political element of this phenomenon offered a component susceptible of “being analyzed separately from the other processes” (Volpi, 2010: 1). This focus on the politicized nature of Islam gained traction in Western academia, and Islam came to be described “as a political religion, a religion in which politics and religion are difficult to separate” (Mutman, 2014:1). This exclusion of all the other features of Islam in favor of its political characteristics, led to the prevalence of Political Islam as a favorite topic in the study of Islam within Western academia.

“It is commonplace, particularly in Western analysis, to associate the emergence of Islamism with an “Islamic revival” that began to gather force in the 1970s, reaching its zenith with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.” (Mandaville, 2007:58). Western literature devoted to Political Islam or Islamism often reiterates three major assumptions. “These are, first, that the intermingling of religion and politics is unique to Islam; second, that political Islam, much like Islam itself, is monolithic; and third, that political Islam or Islamism is inherently violent” (Ayoob, 2008:1). Western thinkers writing on the subject have frequently been accused by their critics of reducing Political Islam to a “despotic oriental foil” to Western liberal democracies, as well as modernity itself.

One of the main reproaches leveled against this body of knowledge is its reliance on an Orientalist Grand Narrative. An essential Orientalist bias central to these contemporary readings of Islam is the “binary opposition between Islam and the West” (Volpi, 2010:32). In this rather Manichaean worldview, the West represents modernity, secularism and democracy, while the Muslim world embodies stagnation, orthodoxy, and despotism. This idea of a cleavage between a Christian West and a Muslim East is not only one that defines Orientalism, it also introduced amongst Western notions about Islam the idea that an Islamic civilization can only inspire undemocratic governments. While we often attribute the rise of Islamophobia to the post 9/11 context, this ideology predicated on an intense hostility toward Muslims, Islamic cultures, and Islamic politics has a pedigree of many centuries in Western thought.

When in 634 Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands, for many Christians the very status of Christianity as the “universal religion of a universal empire” (Kalmar, 2012:36) was being challenged by the newly expanded Muslim Caliphate. While Edward Said argued that the European encounter with the Orient resulted in the depiction of Islam as the ultimate outsider in the Western world’s collective imaginary (Said, 1979:70), Ivan Kalmar posits instead that when Islam was born, Prophet Muhammad (saw) “was widely regarded not as an alien but as an “impostor”, a heretical Christian with pretensions of being a new Christ” (Kalmar, 2012:38). Hence, the advent of Islam was not interpreted as a schism between Europe and “its outsiders; but rather as a crack within a single, Christian-Muslim edifice” (Kalmar, 2012:39). This fragile status quo changed drastically when the Ottoman Empire won the battle of Kosovo and gained an important foothold in Europe by 1388 (Kalmar, 2012:40). The fall of Constantinople in 1453 exacerbated existing tensions and irrevocably altered the previous relationship between Islam and Christianity.

The capture of Constantinople by Muslims marked the beginning of Europe’s creation “as a continent with a distinctive religious and cultural tradition” (Kalmar, 2012:41). To ensure the integrity of what was now seen as a purely Christian realm, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella launched the Reconquista and expulsed Muslims and Jews from Spain and Portugal. The conquest of Constantinople and the Reconquista allocated to each religion a solid geographic presence. In the Christian West’s Weltanschauung, Christianity found its abode in the West, while the Orient became irretrievably Muslim. During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther said of Islam the following:

“The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God. … If the Turk’s god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat. … Christian weapons and power must do it…”

He saw Islam primarily as a violent movement—closed to all reason—in the service of the anti-Christ, and that can only be resisted through equally violent means. In 1544 Bartholomew Georgevich of Croatia produced a best-selling work titled Miseries and Tribulations of the Christians held in Tribute and Slavery by the Turks. It was what we might call by today’s standards a graphic novel. This illustrated book showed Turks beheading prisoners, Turks spitting babies on their lances, Turks leading into slavery captured women and children. In Europe where illiteracy was rampant, this book reached a wider audience and popularized a virulent form of propaganda against Muslims.

In later centuries Islam continued to be presented as a foil for authors who championed Enlightenment in Europe. Western thought and literature produced an impressive collection of stereotypes and half-truths about Islam and Muslims. In these works Muslims were often referred to as Turks, Moors, Saracen, or Mahomedians. Whether it was Voltaire’s depiction of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) as an theocratic tyrant, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Moor’s inherent brutality and lack of reason in Othello, Hegel’s assertion that the Muslim civilization was devoid of Volkgeist or specific ethnic and national spirits, Montesquieu’s commentary on how despotism is likely to be the only means of establishing order in Islamic territories, or Ernest Renan dismissing Islam as incompatible with science, and Muslims as incapable of leaning anything, or of opening themselves to new ideas, these ideas about Islam were reiterated again and again. Scholars in Western academia to this day perpetuate these stereotypes of a static, irrational, retrogressive, anti-modern religious tradition. Luminaries of Western academia such as Bernard Lewis, Ellie Kedourie, Daniel Pipes, Gilles Kepel, and Samuel Huntington have given credence to this portrayal of Islam in their own illustrious careers.

To ignore the historical roots of Islamophobia, and how Western thought has been instrumental in not only manufacturing a narrative about Islam based primarily on stereotypes—but also in justifying and reiterating this idea of Islam as a civilizational threat to the Western World—would hinder our understanding of the many ramifications of Islamophobia in our society. Sam Harris, the popular American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist stated the following: “To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations”, and we’re deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We’re talking about Islam being a religion of peace that’s been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that’s not a religion of peace, it is Islam.”  He belongs to the greater industry peddling the fear of  Muslims and Islam. The phobia of a subtle islamization of Europe (and the greater Western world) is not solely found in the ramblings of bigots and fascists, but has rather been polished into a conceivable threat by the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who use their academic credentials to lend credence to this supposed threat. If we do not address the structural nature of Islamophobia, we will never truly be able to challenge it effectively. Islamophobia is not simply the work of racists and bigots; it is rather part and parcel of the intellectual heritage of the Western world.