A Selected Survey of the Muslim World
by Professor Mustafa Abu Sway
The Muslim world witnessed major natural disasters,political and social changes in 2023: earthquakes in Türkiye, Syria, Morocco and Indonesia, flooding and fires in Libya and Algeria, as well as other natural calamities. Politically, the two major powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablished diplomatic relations with the agreement between them brokered by China, sidelining other world powers. The influence of other powers is clearly signalled by the growth of BRICS which is a sign of an alternative multipolar world. Four out of six new members of the BRICS economic bloc are Muslim countries: Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. BRICS rivals the G7, and it aims is to be less dependent on the USA dollar—something especially attractive to countries that are subject to sanctions.
Muslims living in countries that have embraced the LGBTQ+ movement have been the segment most immediately impacted socially in those cultures. The discourse has shifted from being one confined to human rights and fighting prejudice to one where its values and ideas are enforced on communities. This is done through education, and cultural, legal, and governmental establishments. Moreover, many western countries actively promote the LGTBQ+ agenda in the Arab and Muslim world through tying acceptance of it to aid. The movement is also powerfully promoted through popular culture channels such as streaming services and social media platforms. To not adopt the LGBTQ+ agenda is to be deemed backward, bigoted, and inhumane.
Many natural disasters affected Muslim countries starting with a 5.6 earthquake in December 2022, near Cianjur in West Java, Indonesia, which killed 635 people and injured 7,700. January 2023 saw a deadly cold snap in Afghanistan killing 166 people and nearly 80,000 livestock. However, by far the most deadly disaster was the earthquakes affecting Türkiye and northern Syria. Two devastating earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 on 6 February 2023 caused 50,000 deaths and more than 100,000 injuries in Türkiye alone. Nine million people have been affected with 5.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 100,000 buildings and homes were brought to the ground in Türkiye. A huge international humanitarian effort helped provide essentials to those affected as rebuilding the infrastructure starts.
On 8 September Morocco was struck by a 6.8 earthquake in the rural areas in the Atlas Mountains, south of Marrakesh. Close to 3,000 people were killed mainly because homes which were built with sundried mud bricks collapsed and buried the people inside.
In Libya, on 10 September, a Mediterranean storm caused deadly floodings in the coastal cities in the northeastern Green Mountain areas. Two dams burst in the city of Derna, with gushing floodwater destroying building and bridges, and washing people to sea. At least 4,000 people died and more than 10,000 are still missing.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
Major changes continue unabated in Saudi Arabia, from political to economical to societal.
Saudi Arabia is fostering a zero-conflict policy with regional countries and neighbours. As well as restoring diplomatic relations with Iran through Chinese mediation, it has normalized relations with Qatar, welcomed Syria back into the fold of the Arab League, and is working to resolve the conflict in Yemen. Saudi hosted a Houthi delegation in Riyadh and although the war has subsided there have not been any official agreements to end it so far. Neither the Houthi Shia militias nor President Hadi’s government can end the conflict although the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran could pave the way for a political solution. The conflict has caused thousands of casualties, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation, with a health system that has all but collapsed. The overwhelming majority of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance.
With the United States pushing for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, there is much talk of how far and quickly Saudi Arabia will go in establishing official relations. Behind the scenes talks have no doubt begun, but the current far-right Israeli government’s actions on the ground make it more difficult to make credible progress. Despite all the talks, the Israeli occupation continues unabated 30 years after the Oslo Agreement. Zionist settlers, who control 40% of the West Bank, committed heinous pogroms against the Palestinian towns of Huuwarah, Turmus Ayyah, and other villages.
Israel systematically undermines the historical status quo at the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif and there is no freedom of movement or freedom of worship for Palestinian Muslims and Christians who reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Muslim worshippers who are younger than 50 years of age are often prevented from entering Al-Aqsa.
On 26 February 2023, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank committed the first pogrom in the town of Huwara near Nablus, torching homes, cars, and businesses. The Israeli occupation military did very little to stop it. On 21 June 2023, the second pogrom took place in the town of Turmus Aya, near Ramallah, setting fire to homes, cars, and businesses, desecrating a mosque and the Holy Qur’an.
According to B’Tselem, six Palestinian farming-shepherding communities, home to thousands of Palestinians, are being terrorized to relinquish their land. For decades, Israeli authorities have pursued a policy aimed at driving out these communities by making living conditions intolerable forcing residents to leave, ostensibly of their own volition. This unlawful conduct is motivated by the political ambition, publicly stated by various officials, to establish facts on the ground and take over these areas in a de-facto annexation that would facilitate actual annexation to Israel as part of a final status arrangement.
At the United Nations 78th General Assembly, Arab leaders called for ending the Israeli Occupation and establishing a Palestinian State. On 19 September 2023, HM King Abdullah II defended the Palestinians’ right to an “independent and viable state on the June 4th, 1967, lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital”, stressing that the region will continue to suffer until the world helps lift the shadow of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—the central issue in the Middle East.” HM King Abdullah II said that this year has been the deadliest for Palestinians for 15 years.
Across the border in Syria, there were signs of rapprochement and an end to the internal conflict. Arab government representatives in Cairo voted on 7 May 2023 to return Syria to the Arab League after a 12-year suspension. Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended 12 years ago early in the uprising-turned-conflict, which has killed nearly a half million people since March 2011 and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
However, on 8 September 2023 anti-government protests took place in the Druze city of Sweida over the failing economy.
The largest Arab nation, Egypt, sees several mega building projects continuing despite economic hardships. The New Administrative Capital megaproject is largely operated by Egypt’s Ministry of Defense, and is taking shape, though completion remains years away. It is connected to Cairo by a 12-lane highway and will accommodate more than six million residents, relieving traffic congestions and other stresses on the crumbling infrastructure in Cairo. It will also consolidate and move government headquarters into one location. It is already home to the tallest iconic building in Africa, a huge presidential palace, Senate and Parliament buildings, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, a sports complex, and dozens of ministry buildings including the largest defence complex in the world.
Egypt has been grappling with a protracted shortage of foreign currency, record inflation and a rising debt burden despite the economy maintaining relatively steady growth through shocks caused by COVID-19 and the Ukraine war.
Moving south into Sudan, an armed conflict began on 15 April, triggered by a power struggle between the leaders of the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The situation could repeat the Libya scenario where the country is divided between two governments. Both parties have been accused of human rights violations, with a massacre committed in Darfur against fleeing refugees. The conflict has already caused around 7,500 people fatalities and internally displaced more than five million Sudanese. In addition, 1,200 children died in the refugee camps from measles and malnutrition from mid-May to mid-September.
On 19 September 2023, Ukrainian special services were likely behind a series of drone strikes and a ground operation directed against a Wagner-backed militia near Sudan’s capital, raising the prospect that the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spread far from the frontlines. The operation involved a series of attacks on the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is believed to be receiving assistance from Wagner, the Russian mercenary group, in its fight against the Sudanese army for control of the country.
Iraq’s government has set 18 December 2023 as the date for holding provincial elections in line with the ministerial agenda adopted by the government and approved by the Parliament last October. However, the largest party, the Sadrist Movement, is boycotting the elections, and indeed stated that it is withdrawing from politics. In a complex picture, this latter position might not be final as the history of this movement indicates.
The Iraqi Kurdistan semi-autonomous region continues to have issues with the federal government of Iraq regarding power sharing, oil revenue, and territorial control. In 2020, Iraq cut federal budget contributions to the KRG after Erbil failed to turn over the 250,000 barrels per day stipulated in the 2019 budget.
The situation escalated in March 2023, when Türkiye stopped its oil imports from the Kurdistan Region after a ruling by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce that said Türkiye owed Iraq $1.5 billion for receiving unauthorized exports. The Federal government is slated to be more in control of oil production in the Kurdistan region.
It is very important to recall the many revolts and wars between the Kurds and the Iraqi government over most of the last 100 years, with regional and international players playing the Kurdish issue to weaken the government in Baghdad. It is bound to reemerge in the future, especially after Iraqi Kurdistan had a referendum which supports independence.
Relations between Morocco and Algeria are still poor with Morocco refusing to accept humanitarian assistance from Algeria in the aftermath of the most recent earthquake. Borders between the two countries have remained closed since 1994, despite repeated calls by Morocco in recent years for their reopening. Algeria helped found the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara and does not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, causing uneasy relationship between the two Arab neighbours.
In the complicated world of Libya, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads one of Libya’s rival governments, said he suspended Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush and referred her for an investigation over her meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister, which was the first ever between top diplomats of Libya and Israel. Mangoush fled to Türkiye following the Israeli announcement of the meeting.
Libya has been divided between rival administrations since 2014, with an internationally recognized government in Tripoli and a rival authority in the east. On 15 August 2023, clashes between armed groups affiliated with Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Unity erupted in the Libyan capital.
The recent hurricane in the Green Mountain burst two dams in the port city of Derna, creating a wall of water that swept people and whole neighbourhoods into the Mediterranean Sea. More than 11,000 are estimated to have died, and 10,000 are missing. This mega catastrophe became a rallying cry for unity and an end to the ongoing conflict. The flooding disaster is providing a rare opportunity for reuniting Libya.
Tunisia, the birth of the Arab Spring, has seen a suspension of parliament and the judiciary in recent years by the democratically elected president, President Saied. On 23 January 2023, 37 judges filed individual complaints at the Court of First Instance, seeking compliance with the administrative court order to reinstate the 49 magistrates (judges and prosecutors) affected by dissolving the High Judicial Council. He replaced it, through decree no. 2022-11, with a temporary HJC in which all 21 members are appointed including nine directly by the President. He runs the country with presidential decrees.
The recently elected members of the new parliament met to hold their first session on Monday, almost 20 months after the body was suspended in July 2021. The new lawmakers were elected at the beginning of the year in a poll boycotted by opposition parties and most of the electorate. Turnout was only 11%. The opposition boycotted the elections. The EU has an agreement with Tunisia with funding to combat illegal immigration to Europe.
In Türkiye, despite many commentators predicting a change in run-off elections on 28 May 2023, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the elections. The incumbent President has been Prime Minister and President of Türkiye since 2003. He has also re-synched the relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia which soured over various regional issues including the Qatari blockade, support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestine/Israel issue. Egypt and Türkiye resumed diplomatic relations in early July 2023. This is part of a wider reproachment of Türkiye with the Arab World. Both countries suffer from struggling economies, currency devaluation, and a very high rate of inflation.
Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed full diplomatic relations with China mediating talks. Through Qatar’s mediation, Iran released American-Iranian prisoners in exchange for 6 billion dollars that had been frozen by the USA.
The first anniversary of Mahsa Amini dying in Iranian moral police custody was marked by protests. She was detained for not wearing her hijab properly. The massive protests in Iran were met by an iron-fisted policy, leading to many protesters being killed or imprisoned. The moral police was then dissolved.
Most sub-Saharan countries included in this survey suffer from violence and atrocities at the hands of state actors, non-state actors, foreign troops and contractors as the Russian Wagner Group. Many insurgents and terrorist organizations proliferate across borders.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with over 230 million people, with Muslims forming about 54% of the population and Christians around 46%. Armed groups have attacked police stations and government buildings in states in Nigeria’s southeast, which authorities often blame on the proscribed separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group. There is an Islamist insurgency in the northeast and violent sectarian and herder-farmer clashes in the central region.
The most notorious group is Boko Haram—which translates literally to “Western education is forbidden”—which has, since 2009, killed tens of thousands of people. The rise of Boko Haram is inextricable from post-colonial identity formation in Nigeria, a diverse state, where the Westernized method of schooling was already adopted by the Christian south during colonial times and was then imposed on the Muslim north post-independence. It was then seen as responsible for the lack of job opportunities. At the beginning, Boko Haram was a nuisance, not more. They were coopted by Muslim politicians for elections. The police brutality against Boko Haram is believed to be a staged operation triggering one of the worst cases of terrorism.
The terrorist group’s international profile was raised when it began kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls—especially in April 2014, when it kidnapped 267 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State, sparking the global “bring back our girls” campaign. Today, their atrocities have reached the neighbouring countries of Cameron and Chad.
The state of Chad’s political transition is not reassuring. Despite some signs of progress during the National Inclusive and Sovereign Dialogue (NISD) last October, security forces engaged in violent crackdowns of protests shortly afterward killing many civilians. Meanwhile, the transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby moved to consolidate power ahead of elections planned for October 2024, leaving opposition and civic groups worried that Déby may not turn power over to a civilian government. His father ruled Chad for more than 30 years, from 1991 to 2021.
It is in this context that Déby moved quickly to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, which he personally inaugurated, probably believing that this move will align western powers on his side. During his visit, he was taken to Al-Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by the Israeli security forces. The timing was in the late afternoon when few worshippers were present.
The transitional military council and more than 40 rebel groups signed a peace accord in Doha, Qatar, to end a decades long conflict and initiate a broader national dialogue. However, nine armed factions, including the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the Libya-based group, opposed the deal. The latter are reported to be fighting along the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces, who committed massacres and atrocities in Darfur when they were fighting on behalf of the Sudanese government.
Chad is surrounded by countries embroiled in civil wars in Libya and Sudan, with Sudanese refugees crossing the border to Chad, enduring new massacres as they escape the war.
The government in Sheger city, in the Oromia region, demolished 19 mosques in 2023. The police killed two protesting the mosques’ demolishing, and injured scores tens of protesters. This is regrettably a setback from the historical role that Ethiopia played in protecting Muslims. The new plans for Sheger city, which will encase Addis Ababa, along with other ethnic conflicts, led to many internally displaced Ethiopians.
Ethiopia completed filling the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2023. This dam, which was built on the Blue Nile, primarily to generate electricity, caused rising tensions with the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan. Egypt threatened a military solution to the dam crisis, with Egyptian media beating the drums of war, with no indicators for imminent action.
The 1959 agreement gives Egypt the right to veto any project by upstream countries. The USA tried to mediate with Ethiopia to no avail.
The transitional government that came to power in a 2021 coup—the second military overthrow in less than a year—undermined efforts to investigate the mounting allegations of atrocities by state actors. Impunity for past and ongoing abuses by all armed groups persisted.
Human rights deteriorated dramatically in Mali in 2022 as attacks against civilians by Islamist armed groups and killings of suspects by pro-government forces during counterterrorism operations surged. The government increasingly cracked down on media and opposition voices, narrowing civic space. The mounting abuses occurred amid a background of an ongoing political crisis and significant tension with Mali’s diplomatic partners, anchored in Mali’s decision to employ the Wagner Group, a private military security contractor with apparent links to the Russian government, with mounting allegations of summary executions and other abuses by them. Wagner is active in many sub-Saharan countries.
France ended a decade-long military operation in Mali. Mali’s relationship with the United Nations and neighbouring West African countries deteriorated throughout the year, increasing Mali’s political isolation.
Little progress was made in restoring state authority and services. The humanitarian situation worsened because of global food shortages and the effects of climate change. The number of internally displaced people increased from 2021, bringing the total close to half a million people.
Mauritania, with a population of about 5 million, has experienced decades of military rule since 1978, but recent presidential and parliamentary elections have been relatively credible. In June 2019, Mauritanians elected Mohamed Ould Ghazouani as President. He won 52% of the vote in the first round. The election represented Mauritania’s first-ever peaceful transfer of executive power, signalling a departure from a history of military coups.
The government appears to address pressing issues such as slavery but doesn’t appreciate media coverage.
In December 2022, the case of former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was accused of corruption in 2021, was formally transferred to an anticorruption court.
Mauritania suffered from flooding that was exacerbated by urban expansion without proper drainage. This had negative impact on the improving economy, yet to return to pre-covid performances. It is vital for all countries, even those without a history of heavy rain, to have a serious assessment of their infrastructure. The climate change could make unexpected flash floods.
After the overthrowing of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991, rival warlords tore the country apart into clan-based fiefdoms. An internationally backed unity government formed in 2000 struggled to establish control, with separatist movements in the two relatively peaceful northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland. However, unlike Somaliland, Puntland is not trying to obtain international recognition as a separate nation but is part of the federal Somali state.
The seizure of the capital Mogadishu and much of the country’s south by a coalition of Islamist Shariah courts in 2006 prompted an intervention by Ethiopian, and later the African Union, forces.
Since 2012, when a new internationally backed government was installed, Somalia has been inching towards stability, but the new authorities still face a challenge from Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabab insurgents. The main problem in Somalia is the absence of a strong government that could police both land and ocean. Recently, the Somali pirates’ threat subsided.
In 2022, the Somali government forces, aided by US air strikes and African Union troops, carried out major offensives against Al-Shabab, retaking control of significant areas that had previously been under the group’s control.
Three decades of conflict nearly destroyed Somalia’s health and education systems, which are characterized by poor quality, insufficient access, and inadequate resources. As a result, 3 million children are not enrolled in school.
Recently, Somalia has been hit with its worst drought in a century. According to UNICEF, over 1.4 million children in Somalia, nearly half of the country’s under-five population, are likely to suffer from acute malnutrition due to the ongoing drought. Acute malnutrition leads to stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and irreversible damage to cognitive development.
The Taliban government continued its policies regarding women in education and work. In December 2022, it barred female students from attending university, having already banned girls from middle school and high school. It then barred women from working with national and international non-governmental groups, after already excluding them from most jobs. The Taliban closed all women beauty salons, affecting 60,000 workers and entrepreneurs.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its trade deficit in the first half of 2023 is 32% wider than the same period in 2022. Half of Afghani families struggle to sustain their livelihood.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been the cause of two wars between the neighbours in the past three decades, most recently in 2020.
On 19 September 2023, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it had begun a [military] “anti-terrorist” campaign in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as Armenian media and local authorities reported heavy bombardment of the regional capital of Stepanakert, which is known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan. Within two days, the Armenians accepted the conditions imposed by Azerbaijan.
Ahead of the January 2024 elections, hundreds of opposition leaders from the Bangladesh National party have been detained to disqualify them from participating in the national elections. The ruling Awami League government is aware of the international observers’ scrutiny of the environment leading to the elections.
The Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar, mostly in 2017, and ended up as refugees in Bangladesh, are subject to criminal activities, abduction, child recruitment and killing. The Bangladesh Ministry of Defence reported that at least 11 armed groups are operating in the camps. Several criminal gangs involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking have been vying for greater control in the camps, with the refugees caught in the middle. In 2022 40 refugees were killed and 48 have already been killed in 2023. The authorities are failing to adequately protect Rohingya refugees from surging violence.
General elections will be held in the world’s third-largest democracy, Indonesia, in February 2024. The three candidates running for president are Prabowo Subianto, who has already run twice unsuccessfully for the post (losing to incumbent Joko Widodo), Ganjar Pranowo, a popular candidate outside the political and military elite and Anies Baswedan, former governor of Jakarta.
In Rempang, Indonesia demonstrations have rocked Indonesia’s Riau Islands province as residents of Rempang Island protest government plans to evict thousands of people to make way for a multibillion-dollar Chinese-owned glass factory and “Eco-City”.
The dispute over the evictions has been heating up for months, after the government announced that Rempang’s 7,500 residents would have to move inland, some 60km (37 miles) away from their coastal homes. Many make a living from the sea, selling locally caught seafood.
China is investing heavily in Indonesian infrastructure.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ruling coalition and the conservative opposition took control of three states each in regional election in August 2023. The regional election was widely seen as a referendum of Anwar’s leadership and the strength of the opposition, which includes the religious conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), after a divisive general election in November.
Anwar’s multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance triumphed in the three states it held prior to the vote: Selangor and Penang, which are the country’s richest, as well as Negeri Sembilan.
The results also showed the PAS-backed Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance keeping its hold on the heartland states of Kedah, Kelantan, and northern Terengganu.
Anwar Ibrahim held talks with Elon Musk about Tesla and Starlink. Musk will establish headquarters for Tesla in the state of Selangor and launch the satellite internet service Starlink later this year.
A federal court in Pakistan suspended former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s corruption conviction and three-year jail sentence, ordering his release on bail. But another court swiftly ordered him to be detained in a separate case.
The ruling by the high court in Islamabad in the graft case came in response to Khan’s appeal against his conviction, arguing it was unlawful and breached his “fundamental right to due process and fair trial”. The eventual suspension order will remain effective until the appeal is heard seeking the conviction be overturned.
The embattled 70-year-old politician was arrested and jailed after being found guilty of selling state gifts in office and allegedly concealing their proceeds. Khan has denied any wrongdoing. The conviction prompted the Pakistan Election Commission to immediately ban Khan from running for office for five years under relevant laws.
The new ruling also granted bail for Khan, but the former prime minister faces myriad other allegations, ranging from terrorism and sedition to corruption and murder.
Khan alleges that the country’s powerful military is behind all the legal challenges to prevent him and his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, from participating in the next general elections. Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved on 9 August, leaving a caretaker government to take over in the run-up to general elections, which have been announced for January 2024.
The Khunjerab border is the highest-paved international border crossing in the world at almost 5,000 metres above sea level, connecting Pakistan and China. It provides the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. It was closed in 2019 to control the spread of the coronavirus. This is part of the new Silk Road plan, which already connects China with Europe by land cutting the time and cost of exports. Pakistan is suffering from the highest rate of inflation in 50 years
COUNTRIES WITH MUSLIM MINORITIES, ISLAMOPHOBIA AND LGBTQ+.
There has been an increase in the Sinicization of Chinese Islam, including not just cultural practices of the Muslims but also their historical architecture. In late May, thousands of Hui Muslims clashed with local police in the town of Nagu in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province. They were protesting the government’s plan to demolish the dome and minarets of the Najiaying mosque, a structure originally built in the 14th century. The mosques of Najiaying and nearby Shadian have stood as relics of the Chinese state’s past tolerance of Islam and Muslims in Yunnan. They are the last two mosques in the province to still boast traditionally Arab features, namely domes and minarets. Recent years have seen the government-backed transformation of several mosques.
The latest persecution of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs who live in Xinjiang coincides with the sensitive anniversary of the 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi, which triggered the Chinese government’s efforts to repress Uyghur culture and religion with mass surveillance and internment campaigns. Chinese authorities launched a 100-day “strike hard” campaign against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, cracking down on gatherings of more than 30 people.
The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has exposed further evidence of China’s enforced disappearance practices in Xinjiang, particularly focusing on the plight of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region. Recent findings from the working group highlight the arbitrary nature of detentions, unfair trials and secrecy surrounding those who have disappeared, pointing toward China’s potential breach of international human rights standards and involvement in crimes against humanity. China denies carrying out human rights abuses in the region and has labelled camps in Xinjiang “vocational education and training centers”.
Denmark and Sweden
Far-right Scandinavian extremist provocateurs, including an Iraqi immigrant, have publicly desecrated and burnt the Holy Qur’an in Sweden several times. This has caused outrage across the Muslim world.
At the end of August, Denmark’s government said that it would move to criminalize the public mistreatment of religious objects. Those found guilty of mistreating an object with major religious significance could be fined or sentenced to up to two years in prison, according to a draft of a bill published by the Danish Justice Ministry—but should be approved by the parliament.
In Sweden, the Government has appointed a parliamentary committee (dir. 2021:87) that will decide whether specific criminal liability should be introduced for Holocaust denial. No equivalent parliamentary committee is looking into Islamophobic activities.
The Swedish authorities have closed 17 private Islamic schools since 2019, claiming they are unfit to conduct school activities, and that the children might be radicalized. Private Muslim schools teach Sweden’s national curriculum, but also provide students with Islamic teachings, the space to practice Islamic rituals and offer halal food.
The French obsession with Muslim women’s dress has a new addition. The French education minister Gabriel Attal declared that the abayah worn by some Muslim women “can no longer be worn in schools”. The abayah is anything but a monolith dress and could be classified as merely a fashion statement. France has already outlawed Muslim women headscarves at schools, and the full body burkini swimwear at beaches.
Religious freedom conditions in India are taking a drastic turn downward, with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities. The BJP-led government enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which provides a fast track to Indian citizenship only for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistanis already residing in India. This potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens (2023 Annual Report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom).
In addition, “vegetarian nationalism” targets Muslims for their consumption of meat, vowing to protect cows. Vigilantes have targeted the meat industry.
Popular singers who have millions of followers on social media use lyrics that call for the expulsion of Muslims to Pakistan, and killing Muslims, without any legal action against this Islamophobic hate crimes. The call for expulsion manifested itself in the Citizenship Amendment Bill which divides migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, and blatantly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law.
Scores of petitions have been filed by right-wing Hindu groups against mosques across the country, with unsubstantiated claims to mosques being originally Hindu Temples. Even the Taj Mahal is being coloured by the homogenizing right-wing Hindu nationalist narrative.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Thus began a new orthodoxy: it was now a matter of professional, informed opinion that homosexuality was not an aberration, but an acceptable expression of human sexuality. It was gay activism—which emerged in the wake of the Stonewall riots in 1969—that resulted in changing the seventh printing of the DSM-II. Gay rights activists began protesting against the APA in 1970 during its convention in San Francisco. The activists would interrupt speakers, shouting down and ridiculing psychiatrists who viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. During the 1971 conference, gay rights activist Frank Kameny of the Gay Liberation Front grabbed the microphone and yelled: “Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate. Psychiatry has waged a relentless war of extermination against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you.”
But gay rights are no longer a matter of mere recognition. Rather, this is a new orthodoxy. It has now reached the point that quoting scripture against homosexuality and voting for legislature that limits enforced recognition of homosexuality are being labelled as hate speech and being compared to Nazism. Videos of Muslim students (in the UK and Canada) being reprimanded by teachers and schoolmasters for having non-conformist views on the LGBT issue have gone viral. While Western Muslims, particularly those in North America, have typically been left-aligned politically, the LGBT issue has forged a new, right-aligned political engagement, with Muslims in the lead and conservative Christians following. This is in direct contrast to fringe elements within the Western Muslim community that have openly gay imams and mosques that are LGBT friendly. While such elements are still largely in the minority, the combination of political support and forced indoctrination of students promises a bleak future for the orthodox Islamic view on homosexuality.
Secularism is often defined as the separation of religion from civil affairs and the state. However, while the initial goal of secularism was to prevent religion from interfering in state and civil affairs, religious Muslims, Christians and Jews now face something else entirely: the state interfering in religious affairs. In reality, separation of religion and the state is a myth, and LGBTQ+ legislation is proof of this (this has been preceded by bans on religious slaughter by Muslims and Jews in Europe, as well as by a discussion surrounding banning male circumcision). While there is no ideal Islamic state in existence, the constitutions of many Muslim-majority countries include Islam as part of their countries’ identities. The fear is that the “progress” of Western-branded psychiatry in Muslim-majority countries, as well as growing political pressures, may produce a generation that sees no conflict in a gay Muslim identity.
In 2015, the US Ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, sparked local outrage when she attended a gathering of 40 people in central Amman to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. A Pew Research poll in 2007 reported that 97% of Jordanians do not accept homosexuality, one of the world’s highest levels of rejection. Thus, political pressure from the likes of USAID, UKAID, the UN, and others, is unlikely to make major inroads into Arab countries at present. While Jordan’s intelligentsia, like that of most Arab countries, looks westwards for guidance, outright political coercion would be political suicide for Western interests given the current socio-religious outlook. It’s not just Jordanian Muslims who are conservative, but its Christian community as well. Rather, a softer approach, one of inundating Muslim lands with Western edutainment-cum-values, is the political modus operandi du jour.
The inability to coerce Muslim-majority countries into accepting LGBT legislation was underlined during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality, as well as campaigning for LGBT rights, is criminalized. Players were banned from wearing OneLove arm bands, with receiving a yellow card being the minimum punishment for doing so. Furthermore, rainbow flags and other rainbow-related apparel were confiscated. Mexico was subjected to disciplinary measures by FIFA after the final group stage match against Saudi Arabia because of so-called homophobic chants during the course of the game.
However, the Western-sponsored LGBT agenda in Africa has been more aggressive. In Ghana, US Vice-President Kamala Harris appeared to criticize a bill before the country’s parliament which criminalizes LGBT advocacy and proposes jail terms for those who identity as such. In Tanzania, a former minister spoke against US support for LGBTQ+ rights ahead of the visit, and in Zambia, some opposition politicians threatened to hold protests. However, it is Uganda that is at the greatest risk after having approved the world’s most stringent anti-LGBT law. Calling it “shameful”, the law drew the condemnation of the United States and the European Union, who say Uganda faces sanctions if it is not repealed. The World Bank and other international organizations are also reevaluating their relationship with Uganda. US President Joe Biden declared that American officials will review Uganda’s place in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)—a potential loss of $950 million annually.
The acceptance of homosexuality is no longer a matter of gay rights, but the rights of religious people and sovereign states to self-determination.
The above survey has briefly touched on some issues facing the two billion strong Muslim ummah. Climate change repercussions affect all on this planet, but they disproportionately impact those who are less fortunate and lack access to resources and essential facilities—a group in which many Muslims find themselves. Muslims also find themselves making up the majority of another group crying out for help; the world’s current 35 million refugees. There are also severe challenges for Muslims in China and India as well as for the Rohingya. Muslims globally, particularly those living outside of Muslim majority countries, face an onslaught regarding their religious views on gender, and same-sex relations. Regrettably, the global response to all these issues has thus far been insufficient, and if not promptly addressed, these challenges are poised to intensify.
Consequently, many voices are calling for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to assume a more central role in resolving political disputes and ensuring more equitable resource distribution within the ummah. This is of course challenging, but it is often a question of political will rather than resources and capability. Many affluent Muslim nations are increasingly focusing on diversifying their economies, marking a positive step in their long-term planning. Additionally, more of these nations are asserting themselves in the global economy and international politics. This shows they have the capability and strength to enact change.
Despite the multitude of challenges faced globally, it is our hope, in-sha-Allah, that by forging a new Ummatic paradigm, Muslims can empower themselves not only for their own well-being but also for the betterment of humanity at large.
Professor Abu Sway frequently lectures globally as well as in the heart of Jerusalem, Palestine, at Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa. He is a member of Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, and the Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem. He is author of three books on Imam Al-Ghazali: Islamic Epistemology: The Case of Al-Ghazali, Fatawa Al-Ghazali (Arabic) and A Treasury of Al-Ghazali.
As this edition goes into print, we have just witnessed Hamas’ operation Al-Aqsa Typhoon, which launched unprecedented air, sea, and land attacks on the military bases and settlements of the occupying power. The region and the world now grapple with the complex and evolving consequences of this game-changing move, which broke the 21-year military blockade on the Gaza Strip.