What we find over and over again in social media are these claims that criticizing Islam, an ideology, is akin to racism. How true is this? What is the evidence? Let us consider some factors.
First, Islam is like other religious beliefs in that nobody has to belong to a racial identity in order to be a Muslim. In fact anyone making claims to the contrary have some serious explaining to do. Those of us who are aware would know that there are Muslims of almost every racial identity currently represented on the planet. There are even some Muslims who would surprise people in their appearance because the claims of racism by criticizing Islam would almost surely not exist if the general perception of a Muslim wasn’t just that of a person of African descent or a person of Arabian descent. So it would almost appear like the very people shouting down others for being racist via criticizing Islam are also guilty of ignorance of the true demographics of Islam.
When reviewing a country like Afghanistan the evidence that calling someone racist for criticizing Islam becomes more visible. Let us gloss through some of the people who live in that country.
Pashtuns or Pakhtuns or Pathans or Persian Afghans are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. They constitute about two-fifth of Afghan population. Pashtoons can be further segregated into tribes, most famous among whom are Durrani and Ghilzai. Other major tribes are Wardak, Jaji, Tani, Jadran, Mangal, Khugiani, Safi, Mohmand and Shinwari. They can be easily recognised from other Afghan ethnic groups, due to their Pashto language and peculiar way of living, called Pashtunwali.
Homeland of Pashtuns lies south of the Hindu Kush, but Pashtun groups are scattered all over the country. Most Pashtuns work in farmlands to earn their livelihood. Many of them live nomadic lifestyle too. These nomads live in tents made of black goat hair.
Tajiks or Tadzhiks constitute the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Populating around 4.5 million, they live in the Panjsher Valley north of Kabul and in the northern and northeastern provinces of Parwan, Takhar, Badakhshan, and also Baghlan and Samangan. Few Tajik people extend into the central mountains. Most Tajiks speak Dari Persian language.
Tajik community is not divided into tribes. They prefer to identify themselves with the valley or region they live in like Panjsheri, Badakhshi, Samangani and Andarabi. For earning livelihood, Tajiks do sedentary mountain farming and sheep/goat herding. Tajiks grow variety of fine fruits and nuts.
Central regions of Afghanistan, known as Hazarat, are inhabited by the Hazaras. Good number of Hazaras also dwell in Badakhshan. Most of them are farmers and shepherds. Most Hazaras are the followers of the Shia sect of Islam. The Hazaras have their ancestors in Xinjiang region of north-western China. For a long time, the Hazaras were a neglected lot. However, they are now trying to get rid of their inferior status.
Approximate 1.3million Uzbeks live in Afganistan. They live all across the northern areas of Afghanistan, mixed with Tajik population. The Uzbeks are the followers of Sunni sect of Islam and speak central Turkic dialects like Uzbeki. Most Uzbeks earn livelihood by farming and herding. However, several Uzbeks have become successful businessmen and skilled artisans. Uzbek social structure is patriarchal and leaders having the title beg, arbab or khan enjoy considerable power. The Uzbeks have no hesitation marrying with Uzbek and Tajik, but are averse to nuptial relations with Pushtuns.
Turkmens dwell along the southern side of Amu Darya. Most Turkmens are nomadic poeple who herd yaks. Turkmens speak both archaic form of Turkish and Persian. Many nomadic Turkmens still live in dome-shaped tents based on wooden frames. Men wear coats with long sleeves, while women also wear long dresses to cover their hands in cold weather.
The Nuristanis live in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan. The region is so densily forested and rugged that it can be reached only by foot. They speak various dialects of Nuristani and Dardic. Usually, the Nuristanis are farmers, mountain herders and farmers. However, many of them have earned respectable place in the social order by getting into the army.
Baluchs in Afghanistan live in thinly populated deserts and semi-deserts of Helmand Province. Few Baluch enclaves can also be found in Faryab province. Number of Baluchs in Afghanistan is estimated around 100,000. Most people of Baluch ethnicity live in Pakistan and Iran. Most Baluchis can speak and understand Baluchi, Dari and Pashto. Chiefs of Baluch society are called sardars.
So what we are left with is a very diverse group of people who many don’t even look alike. What we are also left with is a demand for more evidence of racism when Islam is criticized. Because one has the burden of proof on them if they want to convince everyone that everyone criticizing Islam happen to be racist. Then of course that person would also have to explain why so many people who have the same skin color and/or ethnic background criticize Islam and how those people are racist as well.
Then again many of us are aware that shouting racism or whatever other “ism” one can at another person has a tendency to be utilized to shut down discussion. Given the many divisions of Islam, types of Islam, differing beliefs, different locations of Muslims, different racial and ethnic background of many Muslims and given the overall diversity to sit back and shout racism at everyone displays a nearly unforgivable amount of ignorance of Islam.
Many of us recognize the racism argument when we see it and usually it hurled regardless of the target. For example if someone of that belongs to a mostly Muslim family happens to criticize Islam even as a former practitioner is that person a racist? Take this Independent article about Amal Farah:
“Amal Farah, a 32-year-old banking executive, is laughing about a contestant singing off-key in the last series of The X Factor. For a woman who was not allowed to listen to music when she was growing up, this is a delight. After years of turmoil, she is in control of her own life.
On the face of it, she is a product of modern Britain. Born in Somalia to Muslim parents, she grew up in Yemen and came to the UK in her late teens. After questioning her faith, she became an atheist and married a Jewish lawyer. But this has come at a cost. When she turned her back on her religion, she was disowned by her family and received death threats. She has not seen her mother or her siblings for eight years. None of them have met her husband or daughter.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – telling my observant family that I was having doubts. My mum was shocked; she began to cry. It was very painful for her. When she realised I actually meant it, she cut communication with me,” said Ms Farah. “She was suspicious of me being in contact with my brothers and sisters. She didn’t want me to poison their heads in any way. I felt like a leper and I lived in fear. As long as they knew where I was, I wasn’t safe.”
This is the first time Ms Farah has spoken publicly about her experience of leaving her faith, after realising that she did not want to keep a low profile for ever. She is an extreme case – her mother, now back in Somalia, has become increasingly radical in her religious views. But Ms Farah is not alone in wanting to speak out.
It can be difficult to leave any religion, and those that do can face stigma and even threats of violence. But there is a growing movement, led by former Muslims, to recognise their existence. Last week, an Afghan man is believed to have become the first atheist to have received asylum in Britain on religious grounds. He was brought up as a Muslim but became an atheist, according to his lawyers, who said he would face persecution and possibly death if he returned to Afghanistan.
In more than a dozen countries people who espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam can be executed under the law, according to a recent report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. But there is an ongoing debate about the “Islamic” way to deal with apostates. Broadcaster Mohammed Ansar says the idea that apostates should be put to death is “not applicable” in Islam today because the act was traditionally conflated with state treason.”
Are we willing to refer to Amal as racist? She probably understands more about Islam than most others do who are on the outside looking into the religious belief. Maybe the reason why Amal speaks out against Islam is due to the fact that she is a woman and in many Muslim dominated countries it is actually written into law that women are to be treated like second class citizens. Perhaps the reason why even some former Muslims speak out against Islam in some forms is due to the fact that many of them, for claiming to be something other than Muslim, can find themselves being executed.
There are other suggestions when the racism argument is invoked. The other suggestion is that criticizing Islam has increased violence. So, the criticism and not inherently violent people who are not even the majority of the Muslim population is to blame? That suggestion is about as asinine as the constant referencing to everyone as a racist. If anyone believes that criticizing a religious belief is a justification for violence than that person should probably question their morals.