A chasm has opened up between ordinary folk and a new generation of activists. For the former, Islam is a way of life and way of living. For the latter, it has been transformed into a marker of racial identity, coalescing in arguments about belonging. Thus an activist can say, in all seriousness, that Muslim converts are not truly Muslim from a sociological perspective — and they will find a multitude of supporters willing to agree with them. Don’t bring theology into it, they say, as they rally around their new central tenet, which is opposing white supremacy and imperialism at whatever cost.

The core of this new religion is not the Oneness of God, but opposition. Thus can all the pillars of faith, all established manners and firm boundaries be discarded. Figureheads of this new religion must be defended, however they live their lives, even if contrary to the teachings of the old, because they represent an idea. They are bulkheads against imperialism.

Islam has merely become a proper noun, brandished as a slogan to rally around. Those who still speak of a way of life, a morality, a path of guidance — these must naturally be marginalised, because they represent a different idea. They are not invested in communitarianism and are uninterested in the politics of identity. They embraced a path capable of lifting all people to a higher plane, through the pursuit of piety.

“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and to free slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to fulfil the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity, and in times of danger. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — Quran 2:177

Today’s activism does not hold to a vision anything like this. Despite sloganeering, its frequent retort is, “Don’t bring religion into this.” When reminded of the guiding principles of righteousness, activists spit back, upholding a cause that transcends the call to good living. Today’s activism demands not that you believe in the way and practice what it preaches, but that you identify with particular tribes at the expense of others. In the end it comes to this: do you belong or not?

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