Muslims in the United States should not assimilate into American society, but should instead act “to please Allah and only Allah,” said Linda Sarsour, a rising star among progressive Democrats, last weekend.
Sarsour’s remarks were part of a July 1 speech given at the annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA. She said:
Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community. It is not to assimilate and to please any other people in authority. Our obligation is to our young people, is to our women, to make sure our women are protected in our community, and our top priority, even higher than all those priorities, is to please Allah and only Allah.
We are never to cower to the powers that be, we are never to give up any part of our identity so somebody else can open a door for us. If a door does not open, guess what we do? We build a new door and walk through our own door, because we have that right in this country to also open opportunities for us and other communities.
Sarsour’s speech was peppered with refusals to integrate into Americans’ Western-style blends of secular government, religious freedoms, and civic society, or to compromise any aspects of Islamic doctrines, such as support for Muslim Palestinians living alongside Israel:
What I believe that people can learn from my experience is that you can be unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Palestinian-American, hold strong conviction, have strong ideology and politics and still become a mainstream American who can inspire and still resonate with people outside of the Muslim community… We do not have to give up any part of our identity… I will not be in a space where any group or any organization or individual tells me that there there is apart of my [Muslim] identity that is not welcome into any space. That, my sisters and brothers, is not going to fly with us in the Muslim community.
Sarsour’s orthodox Islamic separatism has attracted much criticism from Americans.
— Adam A. (@blaze826) July 7, 2017
It is a poor fit with post-1964 U.S. society, and especially with the declared ideals of American progressives.
American progressives swear they oppose theocracies, favor democracies and free speech, favor economic opportunities and legal equality for women, oppose genital mutilation, and favor peace between Israel and nearly Arab Muslims.
Yet progressives are unwilling to treat religions as legitimate political factors. That contempt for religion allows progressives to support Sarsour in the hope she rallies immigrant Muslims against President Donald Trump.
For example, Sarsour was allowed to appear as one of the four media-boosted leaders of the January 21, 2017 “Women’s March” in D.C. against Trump. Similarly, she was recently invited to give a May keynote speech at the City University of New York while wearing her usual head-covering as a signal of her Islamic orthodoxy.
When he was President, Barack Obama boosted Sarsour by naming her as a “Champion of Change,” as part of his campaign to recruit Muslims into the Democratic coalition of diverse minorities. Obama offered public endorsements off Islam, greater immigration of Muslims, and government aid such as welfare and healthcare. “ISNA continues to be a voice for cooperation and understanding … I see Muslim-American communities as our partner, and you’ll always have a partner in me,” Obama said in a videotaped speech to the 2015 ISNA meeting.
I hope that we, when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts us from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers, not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here, in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.
That statement is not a direct call for direct open war against the government. But it is a demand that Muslims recognize an obligation under Islam’s jihad doctrine to unite in political opposition to a perceived enemy — the elected president of the United States.
In her own defense, Sarsour subsequently retweeted claims that Islam’s jihad doctrine also endorses non-violent actions.
— Jamil Dakwar (@jdakwar) July 7, 2017
Sarsour’s ISNA speech include numerous Koranic references that reinforce her demand for Muslim separatism.
For example, she said, “you can count on me every single day to use my voice to stand up, not only to people outside our community who are oppressing our communities but those inside our community who aid and abet the oppressors outside of our community.”
Sarsour’s repeated use of the term “oppressor” evokes many verses in the Koran, which repeatedly urges bloody warfare against people who limit Muslims’ power. For example, verse 2:193 in the Koran declares:
Fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.
Sarsour’s call for Islamic self-segregation instead of integration echoes statements in the Koran, which Muslims believe is the directed and unchangeable transcript of Allah’s commands. For example, the Koran tells Muslims not to depend on non-Muslim authorities, but to unite as one Muslim “ummah” against all non-Muslim powers.
“O you who believe ! Do not take Jews and Christians as your patrons. They are patrons of their own people. He among you who will turn to them for patronage is one of them.
The same verse is also translated as:
O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them.
Muslims must unite “as one umma we are supposed to be,” Sarsour said.
She also suggested to the Islamic leaders at her speech that opposition to Trump is an individual Islamic religious duty, or a “fard al-ayn,” by saying “when the day comes that something horrific happens to us or to another community, you will be responsible for normalizing this administration.”
Sarsour’s frank demands for an Islamic political movement and for a self-segregated Islamic society in the United States echoes the broadly accepted strategy of self-segregation among Islamic activists in Europe and the United States. The separatist strategy is intended to grow their populations while shielding them from surrounding secular and Christian cultures, which Islamic believers see as profoundly illegitimate. For example, Sarsour repeatedly referred to “these United States of America,” not “The United States of America.”
The Islamic groups are also testing that strategy in the United States. For example, Islamic activists rejected Obama’s so-called “Countering Violent Extremism” plan, which sought to reduce Islamic attacks in the United States by fostering counterterrorism cooperation with Islamic groups, including ISNA. But Islamic groups demanded more autonomy, including the legal authority to police their own co-religionists, in exchange for a promised reduction in domestic jihad attacks.
Because of that hostility, President Donald Trump’s deputies have changed the nation’s anti-jihad strategy. The new strategy emphasizes policing without reliance on cooperation from activists, such as Sarsour. The new strategy is based on the likelihood that the activist Islamic groups — such as ISNA and the Sarsour’s groups — can be bypassed with effective outreach and cooperation with ordinary people —- parents and employers, for example — who are part of the various Muslim neighborhoods and groups.
Despite the media-magnified role of ISNA and various other Muslim political groups, it is not clear how much sway they have over Muslim Americans, many of whom rarely attend mosques and frequently drink alcohol. Sarsour’s speech got a tepid response at the ISNA convention, partly because she insisted that the older Muslim leaders donate more funding to political activists, such as herself and like-minded firebrands, and also delegate more political power and visibility to younger, American-born Muslims.
Follow Neil Munro on Twitter @NeilMunroDC