February 8, 2014
Although this piece deals only with cases and laws in the UK, it will no doubt have almost exact parallels in the United States. The names of the laws will of course be different and not entirely identical in content.
Nonetheless, the political and legal ramifications will be much the same on both sides of The Pond.
Introduction: Discrimination Against Muslims?
It’s crystal clear that Muslims — or at least their leaders, lawyers and activists — believed that the Race Relations Act of 1976 (now replaced by the Equality Act 2010) was clearly not enough for them. As the Muslim lawyer and writer (for The Islamic Foundation) Nadeem Malik puts it (in the book British Muslims Between Assimilation and Segregation):
“In discrimination terms, the only tangible avenue available to Muslims historically has been to pursue an action under the Race Relations Act 1976.”
Similarly, Muslims had problems with the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Crimes and Disorder Act of 1998.
Nadeem Malik also argues that English law “could have extended the Public Order Act 1986 to include an offence of incitement to religious hatred.” In addition, the Crimes and Disorder Act 1998 should have included “religiously aggravated offences.”
Malik is not even happy with what he refers to as “discourses on ‘equality.'” More specifically, they are not “religion [Islam] friendly.” Or, in other words, the Commission for Racial Equality does not “provide assistance to those suffering from discrimination on religious grounds.”
So Muslims feel discriminated against not only by those omnipresent ‘Islamophobes’; but also by the law itself.
You’ll find Muslims generally aren’t talking about discrimination in any obvious or real senses: such as when a employer refuses to employ a person simply because he’s a Muslim; or when an employer makes Muslims sit in a different part of the communal dining room. Why do I think that? Because laws already exist to deal with such acts of discrimination. That is, if an employer sacked someone simply for being a Muslim (or if he was shown to be refusing work to Muslims), he would be prosecuted or fined within a blink of an eye.
In actual fact, what we are talking about here is Muslims demanding that they be allowed to work according to the dictates of sharia law (i.e., at their places of employment). In terms of actual example, we are talking about:
i) The “discrimination” that is not allowing Muslim schoolteachers the “right” to take every Friday afternoon off in order to pray.
ii) Muslim nurses — or even surgeons — being allowed to wear the hijab and even the niqab in the surgery.
iii) The right of Muslims working on the tills of supermarkets to refuse to serve customers who are buying alcohol, pork products and Bible-related goods.
iv) The right of Muslims to have prayer-rooms installed in all workplaces.
v) And Premier League footballers refusing to wear the logos of companies which aren’t sharia-friendly/’compliant.’
In other words, none of this has anything at all to do with either racism in the workplace or people being sacked simply because they are Muslims. This is about the ostensible discrimination that is not allowing sharia law to be upheld within the workplace. It is, therefore, effectively about the supposed right of Muslims to Islamize the working environment.
That prime contention is the fact that Sikhs and Jews, legally speaking, are deemed to constitute racial groups, whereas Muslims aren’t.
The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (set up in 1997) saw the “anomaly” this way:
“It has been established through case law that members of two world faiths, Judaism and Sikhism, are fully protected under the Race Relations Act 1976, since they are considered to belong to distinct ethnic groups.”
This is clearly problematic for Muslims. Thus the Commission immediately went on to say that that it “is a serious anomaly that no such protection exists for members of other faiths.” Despite that, this is the conundrum that Muslims find themselves in: on the one hand Muslims continuously stress the “universal nature of Islam” and the fact that “Muslims come from all races.” (Or, as that Commission put it, “Muslims (as also Christians) would emphatically not wish to be seen as belonging to a single ethnic group.”) But on the other hand, being seen as a single race will most certainly confer upon Muslims legal — and therefore social and political — advantages.
Some of these anomalies are precisely that — anomalies. For example, one tribunal, according to Malik, claimed that:
“Sikhs are geographically defined by originating from a particular place in India and that they are bound by their culture as well as their religion.”
So if that’s true about Sikhs, then, according to Malik, it’s also true about Mirpuris from Kashmir. That is, the Mirpuris “have a particular language, geographic heritage, ancestral links, common culture and religious values.” It’s also true “with regard to Pushtuns [Pashtuns?] from Pakistan.” Yet, unlike Sikhs, “it has been found that Mirpuris from Kashmir are not a racial group.”
The illogicality of the argument here — especially from a lawyer — is blatant. Only a tiny a minority of Muslims come from Kashmir or the Pashtun-inhabited regions of Pakistan. Sikhs, on the whole, can trace their heritage to specific parts of India. There will of course be a tiny number of Sikhs who won’t be able to do so. Nonetheless, compared to the hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t come from Kashmir or the Pashtun-inhabited regions of Pakistan, the comparison completely breaks down — and Nadeem Malik must know that. The only argument Malik can uphold is that Mirpuris and Pashtuns constitute racial/ethnic groups and that they also happen to be Muslims. What has that to do with the legal status of Muslims (as Muslims) in the UK?
The obvious answer to all this is to fully separate racial/ethnic groups from religious groups. Nonetheless, it seems that many Muslims — including Malik himself — aren’t happy with that conclusion. Why? Because, as I said, Muslims would benefit enormously from being seen as a single racial group.
Of course this racialization of Muslims is clearly ridiculous. Muslims themselves – when coming at this issue from the perspective of “Islamic universalism” — agree. Indeed the ridiculous nature of this racialization of Muslims is noted by Malik himself — if only indirectly. He cites a finding of the House of Lords, which:
“stated that a person could fall into a particular racial group by birth or by adopting and following the customs of the group.”
Yes; you read that correctly! If a white person were to become a Sikh, he would be deemed — by the Lords and the law generally — to have suddenly fallen under another racial group. And it seems that Muslims also want this to apply to white — or yellow — Muslims.
A Case Study
Malik cites various concrete legal cases which demonstrate this attempt to racialize Muslims and even Islam itself. For example, he cites the case of J H Walker v. Hussain and others in which seventeen Muslim workers were dismissed for attending what Malik calls “Eid Prayers.” Malik doesn’t give many details other than to tell us the racial origin of the sacked workers. He also tells us that they were sacked “on religious grounds.” However, because spending your time praying to Allah (when you should have been working) will not sound too dandy to either employers or to non-Muslims, this mass sacking was given a racial — or indeed racist — veneer. That is, the Tribunal:
“considered that the effect would be to discriminate against most people from the Indian sub-continent and, therefore, would constitute indirect discrimination on racial grounds.”
In other words, these Muslims weren’t sacked because of their skin color or their genetic makeup. They were sacked because they were praying during working hours.
Malik himself sees the problem of racialising this particular case. For example, “if the seventeen Muslims had been white Muslims they would have had no remedy.” Too right! Hence the required racialization of Muslims and therefore the localization of an otherwise supposedly “universal religion.” That is, in order to be given the privilege of praying during working hours (or, in other cases, of having halal produce, Muslim prayer areas, the separation of the sexes, a non-alcohol environment, etc.), these Muslims had to be viewed in strictly racial terms — as a single ethnic group from the “Indian sub-continent.” And that is precisely why they won the case.
Despite that reasonable conclusion, Malik wasn’t happy with such a verdict. Quite clearly to most Muslims, every demand from fellow Muslims (as Muslims) should be met; whether by schools, factories, McDonald’s, universities, Premier League football teams and indeed by every workplace in which Muslims work.