Quratulayn Haamidah explains how the Prevent strategy is manipulating orthodox female scholars to promote its agenda, while positing next generation reformist Muslims groomed by discredited counter-extremism proponents as the ideal “British Muslim woman”.
I have always found it fascinating to read the various pity pieces about Muslim women, how we need saving from hairy, chest and wife-beating Muslim men; how our hijabs should be ripped off by the illuminated hand of enlightenment rationalism; how we must be leveraged out of sadistic servitude-laden homes and thrust into the civilised world of sexual-harassment-ridden office spaces, subservience to capitalist men, and expectations of success drawn also mainly by men.
The feeling while reading such articles is strangely mixed, like someone handing you a coffee spiked with a particularly strong anaesthetic, and then placing an arm of comfort around you only to slowly slip a knife into your back. You only realise the damage when it goes so deep. Or when the anaesthetic wears off.
Such pieces are usually supplemented by the usual coterie of “Muslim feminists” suffering from severe cognitive dissonance between their strange brew of feminism, and their own exploitation as mouthpieces for Orientalised perspectives on Muslim women. The dissonance increases as they receive money from the government for exploiting women for the problematic countering violent extremism agenda (CVE), better known in the British context as Prevent.
What is going through the already confused, feminism-infused mind? Do they not feel exploited as marionettes for a state policy drafted by machoistic neoconservatives? Is there any pondering and reflection over the moral sterility of co-opting an agenda like Prevent?
Ulama and Prevent
Such questions are many. However, a recent revelation in the context of women and Prevent epitomises the hypocrisy of such groups. While the discussion on the appropriateness of Islamic scholars to get involved with policies like Prevent has been previously discussed, little attention has been given to the subset female Islamic scholars.
Recently, an article published by advocacy group CAGE described the implications of the leaked Home Office-produced “Prevent Strategy – Local Delivery Best Practice Catalogue”. The Home Office document revealed a particularly Machiavellian example of how female Muslim scholars are being exploited to advance the Prevent policy, which predetermines the stifling, “reformist” parameters of discussion set by neo-conservatives, and elements usually hostile towards Islamic orthodoxy and its adherents.
Prevent’s female scholars
The Home Office catalogue shows that a Leicester-based women’s organisation has “trained” 135 Alimas under the Prevent project to become the eyes and ears of the state. The aim of the project has been to abuse the trusted position of female scholars so that they promote Prevent “within their study circles that they educate in their homes”. Furthermore, a “web presence” has been developed for women to ask these indoctrinated scholars any questions they want.
The organisation shows trademark signs which indicate to the “reform Islam” agenda. While the presumably orthodox female scholars provide legitimacy to the organisation among local Muslim women, the question remains, what is the “ideal” Muslim advocated by STR!VE?
A clue can be found in the individuals the website promotes. In one article, it positively references the well-known deformist Dilwar Hussain, who openly works for the Christianisation of Islam. Hussain has also stated that controversial and draconian counter-extremism proposals like closing down mosques on the basis of undefinable “extremism” contain “positive messages” and “important sentiments”.
Another clue is found in STR!VE’s curious promotion of a new class of Muslim leadership.
Grooming the next generation
Touted as London’s “young leader” who is “proud to be a British Muslim woman”, STR!VE introduces Fatima Zaman to its Leicester audience. There is a clear effort to push Zaman as an authoritative voice for Muslims.
So, who is Fatima Zaman?
Raised in Tower Hamlets, Zaman is part of the “Extremely Together” initiative which is run by the Kofi Annan Foundation. The Foundation has facilitated the grooming of ten young people to be the next generation of counter-extremists and Muslim leaders.
“Extremely Together” has been supported by Maajid Nawaz, a self-professed liberal “reformist”, who’s organisation has received funding from far-right groups, and enjoys warm relations with controversial neoconservatives like Douglas Murray.
Nawaz was also listed by the US civil liberties group Southern Poverty Law Centre as an “anti-Muslim extremist”. In a crass, poorly cued, and scripted video promoting the Extremely Together initiative, Nawaz pledges his support to activists like Zaman.
Having been sold as a “#ExtremelyTogether leader”, Zaman spoke at the One Young World Summit 2016 held between September and October. In the introduction to Zaman’s speech, Nawaz says that Zaman “epitomises leadership”, which he believes is needed in the Muslim community. Based on Nawaz’s praises, it is clear Zaman is being groomed to be the future of Muslim leadership, which ensures community responses to injustices against Muslims remain passive and inert.
Associating violence and “extremism” with Islam
It is interesting to note that Zaman paints a picture of Islam and Muslims which mirrors neoconservative hawks currently working for Trump. In her 2016 speech, she told global leaders that Islam, in the context of terrorist attacks, is a “devastating force” (5:50).
In a blog for the Kofi Annan Foundation, she wrote, “Be-they young, old, male or female, modern day extremism has undoubtedly focused on Islam, with Muslims at its core.”
Zaman also explicitly removes problematic foreign policy as a root cause of terrorism.
Exclusion of Muslims and oppression of children
According to Nawaz, Zaman has “rolled out counter-extremism policies and counter-terrorism policies” (3:30). She elaborates her function as having helped develop material to assist the Prevent spying system in schools as part of the “educate against hate” government website (9:00).
Considering she is being promoted as a “successful British Muslim woman” by STR!VE, and the future of Muslim leadership by Nawaz, she noticeably failed to consult a single Muslim community organisation during the development of the government website.
Worryingly, the website suggests that argumentativeness; changes in appearance, and excessive time spent online or on mobile phones might be signs of radicalisation amongst teenagers. With such vague information, it is unsurprising that young Muslim children are experiencing second-class treatment in society, namely in schools: violation of their rights, while being demonised as potential terrorists until proven otherwise.
Female scholars and Prevent
While seemingly manipulating traditional female scholars into becoming Prevent puppets, the ideal “successful British Muslim woman” simultaneously advocated by STR!VE, is one who is groomed by the worst kind of deformists, associates violence with Islam and Muslims on global platforms, formulates and propagates policies which harm the Muslim community, and disregards the community’s legitimate grievances while doing so.
Female scholars, and scholars in general, must question whether they should allow themselves to be abused by policies such as Prevent, and be linked to organisations like STR!VE.
Do they really wish to act as stepping-stones to a “deformation of Islam”? Do they, as mothers, sisters and daughters wish to propagate Prevent, which is now resulting in Muslim children being taken away from their parents?
As for STR!VE, it should ponder over its affiliations, and perhaps revisit its website content for reflection. In one blog covering conspiracy theories, STR!VE says that people online “might even say that this blog is being written by sinister forces out to brainwash you”. The irony could not more acute.
Quratulayn is a student of knowledge in the Hanafi School of law. She has studied law, works professionally and takes a keen interest in Muslim public affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of 5Pillars.