When I agreed to write a column for VICE, I was granted this space, and I am responsible for what happens in this space. Today, I’m going to use this space to rub your racist and bigoted shit in your own faces.
By many scorecards, I’m not a legitimate Muslim. I have repeatedly violated the boundaries of appropriate behaviour and belief. What’s worse, I have published accounts of these transgressions, and therefore risk misleading my sisters and brothers. I proudly associate with communities that are condemned as “heretical”. I write about contextualising drugs within my practice of Islam. I attempted a William S. Burroughs-inspired cut-up project using the Qur’an. I’ve been called the godfather of Muslim punk rock, whatever that means. And ten years ago, I wrote about stink-palming Cat Stevens. I’m not trying to play the good Muslim/bad Muslim game here, but some of you might appreciate a pro-queer, pro-drug, stink-palming Muslim heretic. If you’re one of those people who squint when you look, and you have this uninformed view of “Islam” as universally, fundamentally rigid and oppressive, there’s a chance that I can challenge the uncompromising monolith that you imagine Islam to be. At the very least, I complicate the picture and make it harder for you to say that all Muslims think and act alike, right?
But it doesn’t really matter. Some of you see that my middle name’s Muhammad and automatically decide that I’m out to circumcise your daughters. The comments on my VICE columns have illustrated the same reality that I experienced while being detained and molested at the US/Canada border because of Shi’a literature in my trunk: Muslims are Muslims. Regardless of my own positions, every column draws comments like, “At least we don’t cut people’s heads off in a cave”. I’ve learned not to read the comments, because this is what you come up with:
“Islam is the armpit of the world. They treat women like dogs and cattle. They believe in honour killings of their own family and hate their enemies more than they love their kin – Fuck Islam and the camel it rode in on.”
“The notion that such an apocryphal and hateful cult such as Islam could solve anything much less racism is ludicrous.”
“Islam is a very destructive and backwards ideology. Just read their scriptures.”
“This book [the Qur’an] is dangerous to our survival and to human cooperation in general. This is why there are Muslim martyrs. This is why martyrs are ‘true Muslims’. To say they are not is foolish.”
“How old was that kid that Muhammad slept with again?”
“Islam doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for a long time.”
“What kind of insane person (I’m guessing from America) converts to Islam?”
“Islam is not compatible with freedom… It is not a religion but is a political agenda with religious undertones.”
“What do you call an abortion clinic in Mecca? Crime fighters.”
In the bigotry that pops up here every week, there’s a lesson. One of the early failures of the “Progressive Muslim” movement was a willingness to throw our communities away in the name of creating a bold new Islam. However, the past decade-plus of rabid Islamophobia has left an impact on that, because the hardcore Islamophobes have no stake in that conservative/progressive dichotomy – they just see that we’re Muslim and they start spewing hot garbage. Islam is basically imagined as a racial category, and we’re all bad Muslims simply because we are Muslims. Many of us who might claim to be progressive about gender, sexuality, ritual, law, or other questions of Islamic reform have learned to recognise the need for our Muslim family to hold itself together in the face of naked hatred from outside, even while maintaining our right to have disagreements and create new spaces and possibilities within that family. In other words, this unapologetic hallucinogen-chugging, pro-queer, pro-heterodoxy Muslim feels closer to conservative Muslims than ever, and owes a small part of that to you hateful trolls.
I love my Muslim family and you can fuck off. There are enough Muslims who act as bridge builders and carefully, lovingly invite you to step out of your bigotry. They smile and talk about a shared “Abrahamic heritage” or pull the “Islamic values are American values” junk, and they try really hard to impress upon you that we’re decent human beings, but I’m just going to say, "Fuck off". Other Muslims will assure you that they’re the cool ones while happily joining you in demonising the folks with beards and veils: "Look, we’re not like them, we drink wine! We pray in English!" Perhaps my choice to say, "Fuck off", is somehow an operation of white privilege, but I’ll accept that too and at least put my unearned devil privilege to good use. Fuck off.
Peace to Yusuf.
Michael Muhammad Knight became Muslim at 16 after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and at 17 traveled to Islamabad to study at Faisal Mosque. He is the author of nine books, including Impossible Man the story of his conversion, and Journey to the End of Islam the account of his pilgrimage to Mecca.
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