Politicizing Islam : the Islamic revival in France and India

  • Book Title:
 Politicizing Islam
  • Book Author:
Z. Fareen Parvez
  • Total Pages
289
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POLITICIZING ISLAM – Book Sample

Politicizing Islam Across North and South

in the spring of 2004, the French Interior Ministry arrested Abdelkader Bouziane and deported him to Algeria on charges of posing an urgent threat to public order and security.

Bouziane had lived in France for twenty- five years and was an imam of a mosque in Vénissieux, one of Lyon’s drab working-class suburbs. The deportation was triggered by Bouziane’s inter- view in the April edition of Lyon Mag, where he unwittingly confessed his wish that the entire world would become Muslim because people would be happier if they were closer to God.

He also claimed that the Quran permit- ted a man to hit his wife in certain situations, especially adultery, and that men may live polygamously. “But pay attention,” he added. “It’s four wives at most, and there are conditions!” Interior Minister Dominique Villepin, who had been tracking Bouziane for months, said that France could not accept such an affront to human dignity. According to Villepin’s lawyer, Bouziane preached hate and violence and promoted Salafist ideology.1

The deportation stunned and scared local mosque-goers and neighborhood residents. Muslim leaders in Lyon denounced the state’s actions while also calling Bouziane’s remarks “stupid and unacceptable.”2 Bouziane was one of several imams expelled from France in the last decade over vague accu- sations of threatening security and inciting hatred.

Three years later, in May 2007, a pipe bomb exploded at Mecca Masjid, a 300-year-old mosque in the heart of the Old City in Hyderabad, India. As worshipers frantically tried to rescue victims and transport them to the local hospital, Hyderabad police fired on the crowd, killing five Muslims. In the days that followed, police questioned, harassed, and arrested dozens of young Muslims for their alleged involvement in the explosion and collusion with Pakistani terrorist groups.

This was the second instance in 2007 alone of Hyderabad police illegally detaining numerous Muslim men. The Central Bureau of Intelligence later released its post-investigation position that right-wing Hindu groups, not Muslims, planted the bomb at the mosque.3

These two episodes occurred in vastly different societies, but they reflect a global trend toward the routine surveillance of mosque com- munities and arbitrary policing of persons associated with Islam. This surveillance rests on the assumption that Islamic piety has grave political consequences.

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Yet neither the Mecca Masjid worshipers nor Imam Bouziane had any intention of making a political statement. In each case, the state politicized Islam by criminalizing religious participation and expression. Bouziane, a member of an insular religious community isolated from politically engaged middle-class Islamic associations, was expelled from France in the name of security and protection of women’s rights.

By 2010, the French state would criminalize the act of wearing a “burqa,” a choice made by some women of Bouziane’s former mosque as a symbol of radical separatism and an attack on the principle of citizenship.4

In Hyderabad, the dozens of Muslims who were arrested after the explosion were assumed to have terrorist affiliations because of their mosque activities or simply because they lived in certain neighborhoods of the city.

The surveillance and politicization of Islam constitute the backdrop of everyday religious life for Muslims in France and India. Given this back- drop, how do Muslims, as denigrated minorities, mobilize to improve their situations through their Islamic revival?

What types of claims do they make on the secular state that has targeted them as threats to the nation? Contrary to what most literature on Islamic movements would suggest, Islamic revivals in the cities of Lyon and Hyderabad are not aimed at Islamizing state or society. Instead, at the very moment that the global War on Terror has voraciously politicized Islam, many Muslim commu- nities, such as in Vénissieux and the Old City, have withdrawn from the state. Their withdrawal challenges the very concept of a political Islam in secular states.

France and India are two secular states that host the largest Muslim minorities in Western Europe and Asia. Yet these minorities are among the poorest and most marginalized sectors of their respective societies. Over 4 million Muslims reside in France (7%) and 172 million (14%) in India.5

Suffering extreme rates of poverty and unemployment, they are widely suspected of disloyalty to the nation. They are stereotyped as adherents of shari’a intent on “Islamizing” the state and infecting the public sphere with their religious practices.

This research provides insight into the everyday lived experiences of reli- gion and politics of Muslims in Lyon and Hyderabad during the post-9/11 era of the global War on Terror. As in many Muslim societies, French and Indian Muslim communities have undergone vibrant Islamic revivals in the last twenty years, marked by increased women’s veiling, the opening of neighborhood mosques and Islamic schools, everyday participation in informal Islamic study circles and charity activities, and greater emphasis on Muslim “identity.”

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The revivals in Lyon and Hyderabad share features with Islamic revival movements across the globe, but they also have distinct social con- sequences based on their interactions with the state and with historically embedded class structures.

This book explores and explains these interac- tions and describes the specific types of politics that have emerged among religious Muslims in each city. In both Lyon and Hyderabad, Muslims were engaged in a struggle with the state over resources and religious rights, as well as internal struggles over political strategy and the meaning and interpretation of Islamic principles.

Each city’s struggles had consequences for debates within the Islamic tradition, the potential for minority participation in an open democratic sphere, and the situations of Muslim women. For largely poor and subaltern Muslims, these implications are of fundamental material and spiritual importance.6

The question of how minority Muslims make political claims on the state and improve their situations departs from the dominant and problematic question of how to liberalize Muslims. This latter question is playing itself out through a struggle within Muslim communities that is closely tied to social class—a critical dimension of the Islamic revival that scholars often ignore.

Class, Claims, and Divergent Politics

Throughout my research in both Lyon and Hyderabad, I found that middle- class Muslim communities were conflicted over how to protect the com- munity and the religion, as well as over what types of claims to make on the state and through what means.

A major point of tension was whether to focus on economic redistribution or greater state recognition of Muslims and Islam.7 Some parties worried that an agenda based on religious recognition either misused Islam and manipulated the poor or depoliticized the larger community, undermining an alternative, radical redistributive agenda. The political and economic structures middle-class Muslims faced and the types of claims they made impacted their relationships to low- income Muslims and, in turn, influenced the ability of the poor and subaltern to mobilize any form of politics.

The middle-class Muslims I knew also contended with a form of Islamic revival among the poor that they found deeply troubling, and even in contradiction with Islam. The issue of women’s veiling was at the core of this class division over Islamic practice.

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Middle-class communities had a strong aversion to full-body coverings and especially the niqab, a facial covering, which they viewed as a regressive misinterpretation of Islam. How they managed this disagreement reflected the deeper nature of Muslim class relations in each city.

In Hyderabad, middle-class and elite Muslims engaged the poor through patronage, paternalistic affection, and disciplining. Distribution to the poor and to women in particular was central to their politics.

Through philanthropic projects such as women’s training centers, they hoped to transform the community by promoting their secular convictions, injecting or suppressing religion in their projects as a means to this end. Reacting to government neglect of the Muslim population’s high poverty rates and low education levels, the middle-class and elite political field was riven by competition for legitimacy, where the measure of success was welfare distribution and support for private welfare programs.

With the backing of elites, subaltern Muslims in Hyderabad’s slum neighborhoods pulled together to practice collective autonomy, refusing to direct their hopes at the state and instead building political communities.

Women figured centrally in these political communities, creating alternate forms of honor by seeking skills and self-employment, and by using principles of shari’a to target social issues affecting women in par- ticular; poor and subaltern men stood on the sidelines. Women sustained these political communities while adhering to strict gender segregation and confronting the moral disapproval of the same elites who facilitated their movements.

The relations between middle-class and working-class Muslims were strikingly different in Lyon than in Hyderabad. Here, too, the middle class had great disdain for the specifically sectarian Islamic revival that gained popularity in stigmatized urban peripheries like Vénissieux.

But in Lyon, this divide paralyzed middle-class Islamic associations. Battling dis- crimination and state surveillance, these associations lacked the resources to promote political participation among poor and sectarian Muslims.

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