Thursday, June 02, 2022

Religion As Antidote for Religious Nationalism

 This is the draft of my sermon scheduled at ISGH Main Center on June 3, 2022.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اصْبِرُوا وَصَابِرُوا وَرَابِطُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (آل عمران: 200)
[O, community of faith, be patient, persevere in your patience and be steadfast; and exercise God consciousness so that you may succeed. (Family of  Amram: 200)]

0. The Global Problem of Rising Religious Nationalism

Anyone following recent election results in France and primary results in the U.S. must be concerned about the continued rise in Christian nationalism that targets Western Muslim communities like ours with special animus. This is particularly disconcerting in light of the growing tides of religious nationalism that have turned violent around the world: For example, Hindu-nationalist pogroms in majority-Muslim Indian villages, Buddhist-nationalist persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Jewish-ultranationalist provocation and attacks on Arab populations in Israel and the Palestinian lands that it occupies.

In this sermon, I would like to make three points.

1. Religious Nationalism Cannot Be Countered by Another Religious Nationalism

I delivered a sermon at this mosque eighteen and a half years ago, denouncing Islamic-nationalist thought, which was invented in the middle of the past century by semi-educated activists who confounded the classical Muslim notion of Ummah (religious community) with the modern concept of nation (which was invented in the eighteenth century). I do not wish to rehash the same arguments that I made then. But I want to recognize that this unfortunate Islamic-nationalism was a reaction to subjugation of Muslim populations by European colonial powers. I also wish to warn against allowing it to resurface in reaction to the current wave of resurgent Christian nationalism in our backyard. Responding to Christian (or any other religious) nationalism with Islamic nationalism would only exacerbate the problem by providing further fuel and justification for anti-Muslim religious nationalism. 

Sociologists who studied the rise of religious nationalism have shown that it may arise even among groups who belong to dominant majorities but who feel that their identity and way of life is threatened by social currents. Thus, analysis has shown that Christian-nationalist sentiments in the United States are driven by the view that the country's dominant religion is in fact secular multiculturalism, which those groups find threatening. Several surveys have shown that adherents to this view have grown in numbers and conviction that Christianity is integral to Americanness, and that they view Islam in particular as an alien ideology that is incompatible with American values. Prominent former and prospective candidates for President of the United States and numerous lower offices have made statements to this effect explicitly on several occasions.

2. Religious Nationalism Cannot Be Countered by Courting Secular Ultra-Liberalism

Fortunately, many members of our community have seen the errors of Islamic nationalism of the previous century and sought to find better political responses to the rise of Christian nationalism that targets our communities in particular. They exercise the patience, perseverance and steadfastness that are enjoined in the opening verse of this sermon. This is the right approach religiously: not to respond angrily to insults. 

This is the central message of the verse:
وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ (فصلت: 35)
[Yet none shall receive (this great reward), except the steadfast; none shall receive it, except those who are very fortunate. (Well Expounded: 35)]

In their commentaries on this verse, exegetes have cited the Prophetic Tradition narrated by Ahmad on the authority of Abu Hurayra (r) that Abu Bakr (r) was sitting with the Prophet (p) when a man insulted Abu Bakr repeatedly, while Abu Bakr (r) was silent and the Prophet (p) continued to smile in amusement. Then after the their third insult, Abu Bakr (r) answered the man, at which time the Prophet (p) left. Abu Bakr (r) followed him and said: "The man kept insulting me in your presence and I kept forgiving him and refraining from responding; but then when I answered him to defend my honor, you left, O Messenger of God." The Prophet (p) replied by saying:
[O, Abu Bakr, an angel was replying on your behalf, but once you decided to defend your own honor, the angel left and Satan came, and by God, I would not stay sitting down with Satan, Abu Bakr.]

That was from a purely religious standpoint, but of course patience, perseverance and steadfastness do not constitute an invitation to do nothing. 

Politically, what most members of our community have decided to do has been to ally themselves with the strongest political opponents of the Christian nationalists, who happen to be secular ultra-liberals. This is also a natural reaction, to align with the strongest opponents of your opponent, albeit just as counterproductive as using your own incoherent religious nationalism to counter a hostile religious nationalism. This is especially the case because the latter has adopted a "replacement theory" that suggests that Muslims were brought to this land to replace its rightful voters and workers. Thus, aligning exclusively with the mostly secular and ultra-liberal political opponents of Christian nationalism can only lead to escalation by reinforcing this narrative. Moreover, from a pragmatic point of view, coalitions of convenience with the ultra-secular liberal left are unlikely to survive for long because of the wide cultural gulf between the social preferences of rank and file Muslims and the social preferences of those allies of convenience. We have seen in recent elections how large numbers of religiously-conservative Black and Hispanic communities have not found this alliance to be viable.

3. Authentic Religion Is The Best Antidote for Religious Nationalism

Where does this leave us? Who can we court as natural allies to counter toxic religious nationalism? The answer may not be obvious at first, but it should be clear in retrospect. Our natural allies are other communities of faith: religious Christians to counter Christian-nationalism, religious Jews to counter Jewish-ultranationalism, religious Hindus to counter Hindu-nationalism, and so on. Those religious groups  have both the credibility and tools to defang their ultranationalist coreligionists by teaching their authentic religious doctrines that call for peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Toward that end, our best rhetorical tool is interfaith dialogue, and our best political tool is to form alliances with like-minded members who adhere to authentic (not nationalist) Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., regardless of their party affiliations.


Post a Comment

<< Home